Blog South Island Ultramarathon 54km

South Island Ultramarathon 54km

May 11, 2019

It’s been a while since I last visited the West Coast of the South Island. The 54km South Island Ultra from Old Christchurch Road to Hokitika was an opportunity to experience a different side of New Zealand. The event utilises the West Coast Wilderness Trail which is an easy going mountain bike trail that showcases some of the best natural wildlife of the West Coast. Hokitika is also home to the ‘Wildfoods Festival’ which is fitting as I was in dire need of ‘re-wilding’. Countless days on end working in an office can be unhealthy. The body is not designed to sit in front of a computer all day. Joints stiffen, muscles atrophy, the body weakens, and the heart becomes sluggish. I have a sedentary job so I need to adjust my lifestyle accordingly to compensate for this. Therefore, a quick 25 minute flight from Christchurch over the Southern Alps to Hokitika was what this doctor ordered. East to west. Office to native bush. Comfort to trial by sweat. Early starts are the norm in ultramarathons which are always testing. A 3.45am alarm is necessary to catch the 5am bus in order to make the 6am start. The silence in the bus is broken with news that a couple has travelled all the way from Perth to enter the inaugural event! A perfect example of how determination and a positive mind set can outwit most excuses. Our Perth friends seem to have broken the ice and the bus trip is surprisingly lively for this hour of the day. After a quick race briefing in the morning darkness, 30 people move towards the imaginary start line in the middle of nowhere. Head torches on. Ready to re-wild.

Getting wild in the West Coast at Hokitika

Ultra running is completely unfathomable to some. Sadly, exercise is also unfathomable to some. Speaking about exercise to a non-exerciser can be akin to two people trying to communicate with each other in foreign languages. There’s lots of nodding and smiling and eventually both parties separate thinking that the other is crazy. Someone recently asked a simple but very pertinent question which really got me thinking. The question was “Why don’t you exercise? I’m curious”. The answers were varied and equally interesting. Interesting in that what were firm, logical, and compelling reasons for some, could easily be looked upon as excuses by others. Here they are (don’t hold your breath) – “I’m too busy. I’m too tired. I don’t have time. I can’t afford it. I’m sore. I’m injured. I have a medical condition. I’m a dad. I’m a mum. I have children. I work. I have a life style block. I eat healthy so don’t need to exercise. I’m lazy. I don’t want to.” I’m sure there are more. I believe that all the reasons above can be helped with the exception of “I don’t want to”. My experience of working with this group of people is that they are not in the crucial pre contemplative or contemplative stages of change. This group is so fixed in their belief and mind set that any well meaning advice you provide them will simply come across as an insult. This group may require a significant life event or medical crises to shift their thinking. Ask, educate them, and move on. Therefore, without any intention to offend anyone, here is my attempt at helping people with the other reasons. “I’m too busy” – Low fitness kills more people in the USA than smoking, diabetes, and obesity combined. Yes, that is correct. Low fitness kills more people in the USA than smoking, diabetes, and obesity combined. “I’m too tired” – Graded exercise is actually the treatment for chronic fatigue. In those with inflammatory bowel disease where fatigue is common, exercise has been shown to increase energy levels. “I don’t have time” – If you can’t exercise for 30-60 mins a day (i.e. 2-4% of the total minutes in a day) that is concerning. If you don’t find the time for exercise now, sooner or later you will have to make time for illness. “I can’t afford it” – Walking is free. “I’m sore” – If you get pain at rest, often this is interpreted as movement is bad and I need to rest more. Unbeknown to most, it could actually mean the opposite thing. You are becoming deconditioned and need to move more (e.g. low back pain). Hopefully as you become more active and stronger, your pain will reduce. “I’m injured” – Find a good allied health professional (e.g. a Sport & Exercise doctor) who is passionate about helping you. Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can! Visualise the person who completed an ironman triathlon with no legs. “I have a medical condition” – I’m unware of any stable medical condition where all exercise is contra indicated (including paralysis).  “I’m a dad/mum/have children” – There are many exercisers who are also fathers/mothers. Make exercise a priority. Make yourself a priority! It’s not selfish. It’s essential. “My work is my exercise / I have a lifestyle block” – This is a comfortable trap to fall into. We start losing muscle strength and muscle fibre size from our late 20s. Therefore, you need to work harder than what you did in your 20s simply to maintain your strength (rather than build it). Instead of relying on your work (or life style block) as your exercise, change your mind set to ‘how do I prepare and condition my body to better handle the rigors of my work?’ “I eat healthy so don’t need to exercise” – Another trap. Low fitness kills eight times more people than obesity. If you’re fit and fat, you will live a longer and healthier life than someone who is genetically skinny and doesn’t exercise. “I’m lazy” – Find a friend, personal trainer, or motivator. Stop for a moment and think. Is your reason really an excuse in disguise? Ask yourself. Ask someone else. The easy thing to do would be to smile, nod, and walk away. It’s a lot harder to challenge. But challenge creates change.

Heading along the beach towards the finish line

Whilst running I am re-wilding. I love getting into my running gear and reconnecting with natural wildlife. I am surrounded by amazing native forest and mountains. Gone are the sounds of phones, incoming message alerts, and the hum of computers. Instead I hear native weka, flowing rivers, and the crunch of my shoes on the gravel trail. Across swing bridges, under majestic native rainforest, and over streams and wetlands. I catch a glimpse of the stunning Lake Kaniere which perfectly reflects the clear sky and lush bush which encloses it. Although I miss out on seeing a kiwi or baby owl today, I’m lucky enough to see a Weka rush across the trail. Hours go by and I am immersed in bush and wilderness. As I start to hear the sound of waves, I know the finish line by the beach is approaching. Five hours and 42 minutes later, the re-wilding process is complete. Later that night we tuck into a form of controlled wild eating at the local Fat Pipi Pizza. The prize giving the following day in Hokitika’s Regent Theatre is a charming end to the weekend. Before long, I am flying across the Alps again and I’m back in the city. Back to comfort, the shirt and tie, and the office. We live in such a beautiful country. Explore every inch of it respectfully. Don’t become too tame. Make it a priority to re-wild regularly. Running is medicine. Join me at my next blog, my local, the Christchurch Marathon at the start of June.

Another finish line with Dr Andrew Stanley (right)

Helpful tip
If you don’t find the time for exercise now, sooner or later you will have to make time for illness.

Not wild enough. A distant second in the South Island Ultra 54km beard growing competition.