Trail Run #34

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Q& A






VOLUME 9 ED34 // SUMMER 2019 //AU/NZ

VOLUME 9 ED34 // SUMMER 2019 //AU/NZ



Rum Diaries THE













VOLUME 9 ED34 // SUMMER 2019 // AU/NZ

COVER: Seven ultras on seven continents: Jacqui Bell leaps into the record books as the youngest ever to complete the feat, seen here in Iceland for the Fire & Ice ultra.


IMAGE: Randy Ericksen


THIS SHOT: Another continent, another ultra, our cover runner, Jacqui Bell in Iceland for the Fire & Ice ultra.

NZ EDITORS: Vera Alves, Vicki Woolley DESIGN: Jess van de Vlierd ILLUSTRATOR: Annie Walter /

IMAGE: Colin Clarke

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Vera Alves, Vicki Woolley, Roland Handel, Tegyn Angel, Sunny Stroeer, Libby Nuttal, Shail Desai, Hannah Johnston, Richard Pickup.

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PHOTOGRAPHERS: Ian Fellowes / The Eventurers, Chris Ord, Celeste Botton, Steve Blackburn, Paul Stevens, Simpson Desert Ultra/ Jenna Brooks, Three Peaks Mountain Race, Craig Fardell, David Clifford Photography, Sunny Stoeer, Supersport Images, Trails Plus, Dale Travers, Thiago Diz, Colin Clarke, Kerry Suter, Shail Desai, courtesy Terry Davis, Vicki Woolley, Benedict Tufnell, Vera Alves, Ness Vanderburgh, Luis Espinoza, Guillermo Salgado. TRAIL RUN IS PUBLISHED QUARTERLY Winter / Spring / Summer / Autumn ADVERTISING Paul Segneri Phone: +61 (0) 407 715 173 Email: SUBSCRIPTIONS +61 (0) 458 296 916 EDITORIAL Trail Run Mag 4/2A Walker Street, Anglesea, Vic 3230 Email:

Disclaimer Trail running and other activities described in this magazine can carry significant risk of injury or death. Especially if you are unfit. Undertake any trail running or other outdoors activity only with proper instruction, supervision, equipment and training. The publisher and its servants and agents have taken all reasonable care to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this publication and the expertise of its writers. Any reader attempting any of the activities described in this publication does so at their own risk. Neither the publisher nor any of its servants or agents will be held liable for any loss or injury or damage resulting from any attempt to perform any of the activities described in this publication, nor be responsible for any person/s becoming lost when following any of the guides or maps contained herewith. All descriptive and visual directions are a general guide only and not to be used as a sole source of information for navigation. Happy trails.

Phone: +61 (0) 430 376 621 PUBLISHER Adventure Entertainment ABN 79 612 294 569


Get out and explore with trail running shoes that provide you the protection, traction and durability to handle whatever terrain or weather Mother Nature throws at you. Cascadia 14 | Cascadia 14 GTX

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PureGrit 8

Rugged and versatile to protect you on any trail.

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VOLUME 9 ED34 // SUMMER 2019/20 // AU/NZ



TRAIL MIX 8. 22. 30. 32. 90. 98.

EDITORS’ COLUMNS — Chris Ord // Vera Alves EVENT PREVIEWS — From Down Under DREAM RUN — Colorado Rockies TRAIL CREW — Macedon Ranges Trail Runner TRAIL PORN — It’s Dirty WISE WORDS — Richard Pickup – Cradle Ultra Pioneer

REVIEWS 14. 34. 84.

NOW’S A GOOD TIME TO BUY – all the good gear BOOK CLUB – Rise of the Ultra Runners – Adharanand Finn SHOE REVIEWS – The North Face Ampezzo, Brooks Pure Grit 8, La Sportiva Kaptiva

58. Beyond The Limit: Nolan’s 14

FEATURES 38. Q&A - For Whom The Bell Tolls 44. ULTRA HIGH: Kashmir Crusade 52. BEYOND THE LIMIT: Nolan’s 14 60. INNERVIEW: Mountain Masochist Terry Davis 68. OBJECT D’ART: A Cascade of Dreams 74. MAD MISSION: The Rum Diaries


BUSHIDO II State of the art technology and aesthetics in the world of mountain running shoes. Bushido II is the competition shoe dedicated to the world of skyraces: super light, extra grip, aggressive, the shoe is designed to ensure perfect stability and support on all types of off-road terrain. Perfect for Ultra Trail running. Developed and tested in the mountains: Val diFiemme, Trentino, Dolomiti.









owie knew it. I tell it to my daughters all the time: change is the only constant in life. The presence of change never changes. Learn to embrace change or wither. Especially on trails. But more so in life. Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes / Turn and face the strange / Ch-ch-changes / Don't want to be a richer man / Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes As the world turns and burns, the wistful almost pleading tone of Bowie’s voice seems like something I want to take onto the trail with me. In the first edition of Trail Run Mag (waaaay back in in the winter of 2011, 34 editions ago, when we were a fromthe-kitchen-bench, free download magazine), I wrote that I was The Angry Trail Runner. A theatre director in Jenin, Palestine, had been assassinated , shot dead for encouraging the use of art rather than bullets to protest the conflict raging around him. It stuck enough in the craw of my throat that I weaved it into a trail running editorial. In a way, ironically, nothing’s changed there – I’m still squeezing oblique references into my editorials. Like Bowie. I watch the ripples change their size / But never leave the stream / Of warm impermanence / And so the days float through my eyes / But still the days seem the same / And these children that you spit on / As they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through

Back then I wrote that I was angry for even turning on the damn TV to see the news piece covering the bloodshed. I was angry about dead fish in a polluted river near me, I was angry that a dear friend had been taken by cancer, that I couldn’t pay my electricity bill. I was angry about small things, big things, things that didn’t matter and things that did. Nearly nine years later, nothing and everything has changed. The world’s on fire, we’re ruled by imbeciles, changemakers are cast as troublemakers, just as they were back in 2011. Or in 1911. Or 1411. The change is in the intensity. The fires are hotter, the rulers are stupider, and the hate is ridiculously ratcheted. I’m still angry about it all. I mean what kind of world castigates a 16 year-old (Greta Thunberg) for speaking up about the mess our planet is in?

It happens every time I go for a run. I change. And in both the tiniest of increments and largest of seismic shifts, so too does the world – sometimes you notice, sometimes you don’t. In my 34 editorials, I’ve written of fear and failure, children and hope, of being a loser and being stupid, of being a hero and of having fun, of tough love, of art, of understanding – and many more things not about trail running at all but also all about trail running. Because trail running mirrors life. Good times, bad times, boring times, exciting times, flat patches, high patches, confusing patches, downright painful patches. In the long run everything keeps changing. Your mind, your body, your feeling, your hunger, your pain threshold, your motivation, your ability to keep going, your ability to defy everything. You change, with every step. And so here I write of change because perhaps one of the best tools for coping with change – at least for us – is out there, on the trail. But remember it’s also within each of us. The mechanism to work with change rests in our decision to greet it, welcome it, embrace it, and even chase it. Importantly, it rests in our ability to accept it. Run with it. And so as the world changes – for better or worse – change with it. Every. Time. You. Run.

Don't tell them to grow up and out of it / Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes / Turn and face the strange / Ch-ch-changes / Where's your shame? / You've left us up to our necks in it / Time may change me / But you can't trace time That night I wrote Trail Run Mag’s first editorial, I went for a run. It solved nothing. In many ways, nothing changed in that hour. Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Israeli Jewish/Palestinian Arab theatre director, was still dead when I got home. So, too, was a dear friend. My bills remained unpaid. And yet, something did change. I changed. There was still no milk in my fridge, but my mindset had flipped. I flicked the tap on and appreciated that I had running water. Many – including in Palestine – didn’t.

Pretty soon now you're gonna get older / Time may change me / But I can't trace time / Ch-ch-changes Go on…turn and face the strange. Chris Ord, Editor, AU





Baby Steps



(or how trail running taught me to love my postpartum body)


he first time I went for a run in my sports bra, without a shirt on, I was about two months postpartum and pushing my newborn(ish) daughter in her stroller. I was rocking that four to five-month pregnant-looking mum-tum that meant I didn't fit comfortably in any of my race t-shirts so, tired of putting a running tee on just to feel the seams threatening to burst, I just decided to quit the tee. I mean, it’s not like I could just quit the mum-tum anyway and those two things were clearly not agreeing with each other. Prior to having my daughter, I had a much flatter stomach but zero confidence to have it on display in public. Trips to the beach were one long inhale as I sucked my stomach in. Retrospectively, I can see how silly I was being. I've been objectively skinny for most of my life. Perspective is a wonderful thing, isn’t it just? On that shirtless run on a hot day in March, my mum-tum said "too much dangling skin" but the stroller I was pushing said "and here's why". I felt badass. I was badass. My body, which I'd previously spent a lifetime vilifying, had managed to grow a whole person out of nothing (ok, not *nothing* but you get me). My stomach stretched so much I spent months without seeing my toes. So many years spent hating on my body for not being

the exact kind of perfect society told me it should be and then it went and proved me wrong by performing the most magical act possible: creating a whole other human being. Looking at my body for what it had done rather than how it looked gave me the confidence to embrace the extra bits of fat and skin and see them for what they were: badges of honour, signs of my body’s badassery. It’s a lesson I learned on the trails.

What's a mum-tum dangling over the top of my jeans if not the black toenail of my pregnancy? (That sounded a lot less gross in my head somehow, sorry.) Of course, this is all loaded with a hell of a lot of privilege, which I'm not unaware of. Skinny privilege, privilege of having had a healthy pregnancy in a first world country with full access to healthcare... I'm well aware of all of that. But it doesn't take from the point I'm trying to make: I began to love my body when I began seeing it for what it does, rather than what it looks like. Now, with my daughter in my arms, I see that it was that time on trails, crushing long distances, painful step after painful step, that prepared me for this acceptance. I look back now and can’t believe I spent so long hating the body that eventually made my daughter. I’m almost three years postpartum now and was thinking about how ridiculous it sounds to still say “postpartum” considering how long it’s been. The reality is that a postpartum body is forever, isn’t it? I’ll never not have given birth to a child and I’ll forever be grateful to the trails for showing me what true body acceptance looks like, even back when I didn’t know I’d need that knowledge so much. I guess my point is: if the t-shirt doesn’t fit, maybe the t-shirt is the problem.

In trail running, and long distance trail running in particular, we think of black and lost toenails as "badges of honour". They're far from pretty and yet they're something to be proud of because they signify hard work and grit. Outside the trail running world, imperfections, however we get them, are something “to fix”. As my body took its sweet, sweet time to deflate, I realised I had approximately zero interest in "getting back into shape" or getting my “pre-baby body” back. I loved my new shape. You see, my previous shape was genetic, I’d barely had anything to do with it. I looked how I looked because it was how I looked, nothing more to it. This new shape, however, this was the product of 40 weeks of extremely hard work (and a lot of ciabatta loaves). It wasn't what Instagram tells me I should look like, but it was something to be proud of anyway.

Vera Alves, NZ Editor











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The North Face Flight Futurelight REVIEWER: CHRIS ORD

Welcome to the future. A tomorrow happening today where your running jacket really does keep you dry by doing the two functions any wet weather jacket needs to nail to actually stop the inner squelsh: water from the sky kept out, water (and other smelly stuff) from your body purged from within, lest your jacket become a sauna. Even been in a sauna? No-one stays dry in a sauna. So here we have what on the (north) face of it (pah-ching) is a disrupter product based on my favourite science (if I were ever to play favourites among my sciences): nano science. And we’re talking actual new patents and proprietary claims, ones that stack up could wipe the floor with the old Gore-Tex (not sure it’d actually be great at mopping, but we digress), and raise the bar to where quite possibly no other brand or jacket technology can touch them, at least until the patent runs out and other brands can snaffle the science. But first in best dressed, right? And driest dressed, it seems. So Futurelight technology is being played out across all The North Face clothing streams – snow, mountain and active, the Flight iteration specific to active on-trail running use. The North Face believes that the introduction of this new fabric is “a pivotal moment for our brand, for the future of the apparel industry, and for consumers who will no longer need to sacrifice comfort or air permeability for waterproof protection.” Hyperbolic enough to put you off, really. Until you actually wear the thing. And then you start sprouting the same bubble and squeak praising it to your trail mates. “It’s a game changer, mate. Nah. Not talkin’ bout that vegan movie – although my jacket is totally green, dude.” At the core of the jacket is ‘nanospinning technology’ - nano meaning really, really, really, really small – smaller than the eye can see – leaning on technologies developed for water filtration systems, tissue engineering and smartphone electronics casings. The idea is that the waterproofing happens as a fibre-coating level, rather than simply the addition of a fully impermeable layer. The concept is that the coating of the fibres is still enough armour to shed off water beads from the outside, but has micro holes that let out evaporated moisture from the inside. Water molecules too big to get in, sweat gas small enough to get out, is the theory. I feel like this is a similar approach to the older eVent technology rolled out a while back, which focuses on ‘microscopic pore membrane technology’. Maybe going ‘nanoscopic’ goes one better – we aren’t really sure – and The North Face are yet to release specific third party testing data on permeability. What we do know is that the nanospinning process creates nano-level holes, allowing for incredible (one-way) porosity while maintaining total waterproofness, letting air move


through the material and provide more venting than ever before. Nanospinning has also allowed designers the ability to adjust weight, stretch, breathability, durability, construction (knit or woven), and texture during the manufacturing process to match end-use, activity and environment – so your snow jacket with Futurelight will be of a different cut and weight than your running jacket – but they will both work a treat. The jacket also promises durability – important for us pack-wearing trail runners (think rub zones) constantly getting snagged by low hanging branches. It’s also sustainably designed, the fabric creation process doesnt release harmful perfluorocarbons into the environment and the jacket being constructed from 90 percent recycled materials. The waterproof membrane is still sandwiched between a durable, recycled outer layer and an inner lining. This three layer approach gives more durablity. The Flight is a fairly stock in terms of features – albeit on the higher end of the quality scale. It has a slim cut with an adjustable hood that has a small brim, an adjustable waistband, and elasticised cuffs. And easy stash, sealed pocket on the back fits a headlamp, gels or keys and becomes a stuff sack. A new approach has been used to the seam sealing, reducing the number needed (more seams equals more problems). The Flight’s seams are noticeably smaller, lighter, and more flexible than others which should reflect in better durability. While we await the third-party lab results and official permeability data, I have to say that experience is everything and in my testing, in super wet and sometimes sweaty conditions, this jacket has become the Number One go to for both performance and comfort. Let’s wait and see if it changes the wet weather game altogether.


RRP $400

8 FEB 2020

Rotorua NZ

21 - 50 - 100 - 160 km



La Sportiva Apparel Mountain Jacket REVIEWER: TEGYN ANGEL


Guys are funny creatures. We have funny bits. And bobs. And odds. And sods. And all those unwieldy (some would say ugly) parts are weirdly shaped and of different presentations according every bloke. I won’t speak on behalf of women, but for us, sometimes all those sods start to rub, sweat, grind, and generally create great discomfort the longer a run wears on. Or is that just me? Don’t get me wrong. This is no boast review. It’s not necessarily a ‘size thing’. It may very well be for some. Sadly, that’s not my story. There’s been very few running shorts that have ever kept my comfort down under. (Patagonia’s Strider Pro is one). Now T8 has upped the ante adding top end storage to a rub-free package. Its Sherpa short adds a stretch elasticpocketed waist band. Win #1. The pockets (x 4) are enough to hold a phone, water, gels, even a rain jacket packed well, with flat laces snugging everything in with minimal bounce. Now, the real win (#2) is the comfort. Note that the shorts themselves don’t come with an inner. So don’t do what I did and forget to get the Commando undies to match! If you rock the pair, it’s almost a sublime running experience. So light are the shorts and undies that they are barely-there kind of running. You almost feel nude. It’s liberating. Most importantly it’s nonchafe. Anywhere. Usually, I get between-thigh and (close your eyes if squeamish) up the crack hot spots. Not with these. Even when it was warm. Humid. Sweaty. Like a 110km run along the Cooloola Trail in 28+ degrees in Queensland. No dramas. Best of all the super lightweight 4-way stretch 78gsm fabric wicks and dries off in a flash, aided by a water repellent coating. It’s an order online affair, so be careful with sizing - if in doubt, go one size bigger than you usually would: says the website “Smaller runners with large quads or looking for a more comfortable fit should consider going up half a size.” VITALS

$91 shorts / $28 undies


I bought my first waterproof jacket around 2003. It was a three-Layer GoreTex XCR hiking jacket made by Paddy Pallin that was faced with a fabric you’d happily make a duffel bag from and which came partway down my thighs. While it was a great jacket, designed for a purpose, it was heavy, baggy, bulky and ugly as hell. The La Sportiva Run Jacket is definitely not that jacket. Coming in at a measly 187g (Mens S), the Run Jacket is built from a breathable two-Layer Polyester laminate and PVC-free DWR (waterproof) coating that offer a good amount of stretch and lightweight comfort while still keeping the rain at bay. The articulated hood (think, tailored to fit your noggin) and underarm gussets (think, you can lift your arms without the jacket riding up) are both vented to let excess heat out, while the factory seam sealing and waterproof zipper keep the water out and ensure the jacket will meet mandatory gear requirements. While some of the colourways on offer are a little garish, the Black model is a form-fitting, functional piece of kit that looks great and avoids that “plasticky” Cling Wrap feel that a lot of lighter jackets “offer”. While you can’t expect any jacket this light to breathe like a ventilator, it still performs well in all but the most dismal weather and packs down to the size of a Burrito Grande. Interesting fact: As a certified BlueSign product, the LaSpo Run Jacket “has been produced with a minimum impact on people and planet, respecting the highest quality standards possible and the responsible use of all the resources along the supply chain. A BlueSign product is the statement of commitment to the planet.” I’ll raise a Grappa to that! VITALS

RRP $249.95 Stockist info 02 9417 5755




9 TH MAY 2 0 2 0 An incredible trail running journey along the beautiful Cape to Cape coastline.




Patagonia Black Hole Duffel 55L REVIEWER: ROLAND HANDEL

Patagonia Cap Cool Daily Graphic Shirt REVIEWER: ROLAND HANDEL

I swear, the designers at Patagonia must have been working the “change jobs for a day” shift when they designed their new Cap Cool Tee. This shirt feels exactly like a rashie I’d normally be wearing when out on the water - paddling, swimming or surfing. ‘Had the team at Patagonia sent me the wrong item?’, I was thinking as I pulled on the shirt. And so I checked out their website for clarification. Nope, I’d been sent the correct item. And yep, the designers had been working the “change jobs for a day” shift. Patagonia describe the Cap Cool shirt as their most versatile knit, designed for use on trails or on the water. Whoa! Mindblast. James Bond had a car that could drive on land and then onto (and even under) water. And most of us (guys) wear board shorts that can be worn on land and in water. But trail running gear? I love trail running and I love getting wet. But not sure how often I plan my day based on doing both, in the same gear? So after my initial confusion, it was time to actually test the Cap Cool at the beach…I mean on the trail. Surprisingly, it works. The 50-100% recycled fabric is actually really comfortable to run in. It does suffer a little from the ‘clammy’ feel of a rashie when wet, however not that much. The fabric is light (155g size XL), stretchy and super soft (it really does feel like silk). And that silky feeling means the Cap Cool is really, really comfortable to wear. With set-in sleeves, chaffing is minimised and movement maximised. Like all Patagonia kit, consideration of environmental impact is paramount in design - the Cap Cool is Fair Trade Certified sewn and the fabric is Bluesign approved. And best of all, the fabric offers 50+ UPF sun protection, which is perfect for the trail…I mean beach. VITALS

RRP $59.95


Now that taking a swim in the ocean has been added to the end of any trail run (this might actually catch on), you’ll need a way to carry all that extra beach gear. Patagonia’s Black Hole range of duffel bags solve this problem. Coming in four size configurations, the 40L is perfect for just your own beach gear, the 55L when your mate forget their beach wear, the 70L when you need to pack a change of clothes (and then some for after the beach) and the massive 100L for when you need to carry enough beach gear for your entire running crew. Fortunately, the Black Hole range is a little more versatile than just beach going. Made using 100% recycled body fabric, lining and webbing, the Black Hole is constructed using 900-denier outer fabric with a TPU-film laminate and DWR finish (almost, but not quite Great White Shark proof). Removable shoulder straps and reinforced handles make for easy carrying, and outer daisy chains allow for external lashing. The main compartment can be opened right up and also includes a smaller internal pocket. I’m using the Duffel 55L (1200g), which, while able to carry a lot, packs down to quite a manageable size – about the size of a shoebox - thanks to an internal packing pocket. Although like many of those beach tents, once popped opened is a little tricky to pack away. The Black Hole similarly required a little squishing and mashing to get it all packed away again. But otherwise, a great versatile duffel. VITALS

RRP $179.95



MARCH 2020




HerBuilt on the well-received Apex foundation, the new Coros Apex Pro punches in a bunch of premium features and premium materials. Here’s what we reckon after strapping one to our wrists for the last few months. Battery Life, Battery Life, Battery Life. What else can I say about this? It’s great! While I am, admittedly, not running as much at the moment as I have in the past, I’ve worn this watch daily for two months straight and charge it so infrequently the cable gathers dust. It just keeps on keeping on in both normal, everyday use and training. Coros reports 30 days of regular use, 40hr battery life in full GPS mode (up about 14% on the standard Apex) and up to 100hr in UltraMax mode, both of which should be more than enough to get you through a 100-miler comfortably. Get 30hr in and realise you’ve misjudged your pace? No biggie, just change it to UltraMax mode on the fly and you’re good for another night or two. The Apex Pro features the physical (digital) Rotary Knob introduced on the base Apex model, just beefed up. Turning this knob lets you scroll through the menus, with each onscreen shift eliciting a subtle haptic vibration that is very intuitive. The addition of a limited touchscreen interface allows the wearer to customise their interaction with the interface to suit their preferences. The Sapphire glass, Titanium bezel and understated design make the Apex Pro a pleasure to wear and use. As with all current Coros models, the user interface seems (IMHO) rather dated. While all the important functionality is there and the design continues to improve through firmware updates, I can’t help but feel that the menus, icons, watch faces, colour intensity and screen brightness all leave a little to be desired. It feels like a bad 90’s teen nerd movie. While this doesn’t affect how powerful these units are, they certainly haven’t copied Apple’s Watch when it comes to visuals. Sensors? We’ve got sensors! The Apex Pro is specced out with all the standard sensors you’d expect of a premium sports watch: accelerometer, altimeter, barometer, compass, gyroscope and thermometer, and the increasingly-common Optical Heart Rate Monitor (HRM). However, the Pro has also borrowed the Optical Pulse Oximeter from the Vertix and developed an Altitude/Mountaineering mode that offers 24/7 Blood Oxygen monitoring when at 2500m or higher. While this might evoke a snarky “so what” from the Aussie trail runners out there (Kosciuszko is only 2228m and who gives a crap about your


Blood Ox after 24hrs of running...?), for those looking to follow in Kilian’s icy, high-altitude footsteps, (or perhaps more pedestrian but no less thinningin-oxygen Manaslu Multiday) this might prove somewhat useful. Like all modern ‘Smart’ devices, Coros watches can be improved via periodic firmware updates. Unlike some competition, however, Coros actually invests the time and resources to improve their watches and release these updates on a fairly regular basis. Since I first received this test unit in September I’ve received four substantial updates. While you could argue that this might be due to their rushing an unfinished product to market, I don’t see it that way. Even before these updates, the Apex Pro was a great device (horrific Lime Green band notwithstanding), but with them, it just keeps getting better. Of the recent updates, the following really stand out as proof that Coros is taking the fight to the established players: • 400m track mode: most watches suck at correctly measuring track distance. Coros has introduced a mode that accurately measures distance, pace and other data when running on an outdoor track, making Coros the only GPS watch accurate on the track • Navigation improvements, including arrows to indicate direction and a specific navigation mode for cycling • Multi-day workouts, allowing you to stop a run or hike completely then resume it later (think camping overnight during a fastpacking trip) • 3D distance measurement for Trail Running that claims to more accurately measure distance. While the Apex Pro might lack some of the Scandinavian good looks of Suunto or some of the not-watch features and innumerable model variations of Garmin (solar panels, anyone?), you’d be a fool to dismiss Coros. If the awesome battery life, premium build quality, fantastic GPS accuracy, range of on-board sensors, seamless Bluetooth connectivity, “I’m not a Navy SEAL” size and Coros’ dedication to product improvements have you singing the Apex Pro’s praises, the highly competitive $749.00 AUD price point might get it across the line. VITALS



Saturday, 21 March 2020 Tongariro National Park, Ruapehu, New Zealand 72km Solo Round the Mountain, 72km 3 leg Relay, 50km Ultra, 24km Individual







ow in its 26th running, the JumboHoldsworth Trail Race used to alternate direction every year, and many a bar fight started over which was the ‘best’ direction to run. Utilise the beautifully shaded Donnelly’s Flat for a decent warm-up before braving a technical and brutal 1500m climb to the exposed ridge? Or leverage months of diligent hill training to slay opponents early on the more runnable Gentle Annie, before busting out a fast finish? Either way, JumboHoldsworth delivers remarkable variety over a relatively short distance, but with sufficient grunt-factor to keep a (wo)man honest. The trail climbs out of beautiful native forest onto a tussocked ridgeline traverse with spectacular Tararua views. Be warned: this mountain range is a fickle mistress prone to rapid inclement weather changes – reasonable mountain and trail experience is required. EVENT Jumbo-Holdsworth and Hooper Loop Trail Race WHEN Saturday 25 January 2020 DISTANCE 24km and 12km WHERE Tararua Ranges, Wellington, NZ MORE





The Trail Experts It’s All We Do


SIMPSON DESERT ULTRA Birdsville, QLD B irdsville local, Jenna Brook, looked out of the window as her plane cruised high over the ochre expanse of the mighty Simpson Desert and thought to herself: “What a shame there are no single stage running events around here.” Two weeks later, she brought the Simpson Desert Ultra to life, offering a second chance for those who missed out on experiencing a proper desert run with the demise of the Big Red Run last year. In June 2020, the tightknit Birdsville community, renowned for their hospitality, will come together to support runners covering 160km, 80km, 42km or 20km on the looped course (four 20km loops with a central main aid station) exploring the famous outback locale.. Participants will take in only about 5% percent of defined trail, the rest wild running across rolling red dunes, rocky outcrops, and expansive gibber plains: a true desert wilderness experience. This year, the event takes place during the full moon. “Experiencing the vivid desert sunsets and the full moon so bright that you don’t need a head torch is pure magic,” says Jenna. The race prides itself on inclusivity and encourages all runners and walkers with generous cutoff times and minimal elevation changes, all on a fully supported course. EVENT: Simpson Desert Ultra WHEN: 6 June 2020 DISTANCE: 160km, 80kn, 42km, 20km WHERE: Birdsville, QLD MORE:







rganised by the Leith Harrier & Athletic Club, Three Peaks is one of New Zealand’s longest-running trail events, so there’s historical significance embedded in its grassroots DNA. So too are stunning views from not one but, you guessed it, three Dunedin peaks, the race named after Flagstaff (668m), Swampy (739m) and Mt Cargill (676m) peaks. Established in 1984, the original route takes in Dunedin’s most beautiful trails, though lush native bush with panoramic views. If the original 26km distance is too much, choose the 11km, finishing at Swampy Summit, noting that there’s still plenty of vert to keep your heart rate up. For its 37th edition, the Three Peaks becomes “Three Peaks Plus One” with an added 52km option pushing the event officially into ultra territory. The extra mountain features on the long run include (of course) another brutally steep climb, native forest, a river crossing and a wee bit of mud, for a total elevation of around 2500m. “Twice the pain and twice the gain,” herald race directors. Twice the fun, too. EVENT: Three Peaks Mountain Race WHEN: 29 March 2019 DISTANCE: 11km, 26km, 52km WHERE: Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand MORE:











14-15 MARCH 2020

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ake a good (sunny) dose of Pacific island tropical exoticness, match that to ancient landscapes and traditional kanak culture, plus superb trails with run offerings of between 5km and 132km, then add slatherings of French hospitality (read that with a calorie-centric sensibility: as in wine, croissants, baguettes, cheese, and more wine – Bordeaux of course), and a short flight time from Australia or New Zealand (3hrs), and you have the perfect recipe for an awesome ultra trail festival. Welcome to Ultra Trail New Caledonia, your next UTMB points-gaining mission If that’s what you chase (5 points in this case) that doubles as the best running holiday ever. The main event is the 132km with 6000m of elevation gain undertaken while running long sections of the Grand Randonee 1 trail, located to the south of New Caledonia’s sleepy capital, Noumea. It’s a tough run – check the rollercoaster course profile that never lets up with only short smatterings of flat. The main course is a huge loop with shorter offerings of 18, 32 and 72km giving a sweet taste of the almost pre-historic red earth landscapes. Your supporters in tow can still get an active taste with a 10km and 5km hike options. EVENT: Ultra Trail New Caledonia WHEN: 30-31 May 2020 DISTANCE: 18km, 32km, 72km, 132km + 5km/10km hike WHERE: Noumea, New Caledonia MORE:







first came across this trail while setting a fastest known time on the 76-mile (122km) Pfiffner Traverse in the Colorado Rockies,” says Sunny Stroeer, who is quickly gaining a name for herself as a formidable FKT-hunter. The Pfiffner is an obscure yet gorgeous high mountain route with about 40% off-trail travel linking some of the most spectacular, buttery single track trail you can imagine… “like this stretch of high trail near Arapaho Pass in the Indian Peaks Wilderness,” says Sunny. The real kicker to the Pfiffner is that it only dips below 3000m ASL twice from start to finish. “Completing the Pfiffner Traverse in a single push took me two attempts in July of 2018, but I eventually set an unsupported FKT of 54 hours and 41 minutes,” says Sunny. Follow Sunny’s adventures at: and on Instagram @sstroeer





Q&Macedon A Ranges Trail Runners 32


1. How did your group begin? The MRTR Facebook group has been up since 2014, but had a small number of active runners and had peaks and troughs of activity. It was early 2018 that momentum began to build, with the sport growing and more and more people suddenly realised they had a whopping big mountain in their backyard! It’s grown like a (good) weed ever since, with dozens of enthusiastic crazies joining the fold.

10. How have you seen participation in your group change people and lives?

bunch and we even host beginner trail runs to help more and more people join in. These have really boosted our numbers! We work on the philosophy that no one is ever left behind. Some of our members have even formed a “Lite” club…you know, they’re not full crazy, just lite crazy!

Every single one of our runners could give you a life-changing story. Take myself (Libby Nuttal), I was hooked from the moment I stepped foot on the mountain. I’ve made a tight knit group of friends who travel, race, drink and party with. I’m the fittest and happiest I’ve ever been. I have a purpose in life, and people around me working towards similar goals. Anything seems achievable once you’ve started running ultras! Look at Greg, who at 67 was about to retire from running before giving our group a chance and now we can’t get rid of him! What about Sharyn and Jodi who came to one of our beginner runs to give it a go and now run 50km without blinking. Our group has a special bond that we’re pretty proud of; because we welcome everyone and no one gets left behind.

6. If your trail group was an animal, what would it be and why? The mountain goat! We’re good on the hills, shit everywhere and eat a lot.

2. Where does your group run mostly? We mainly run on Mt Macedon, you can’t go past the elevation and views that glorious wench has to offer. But there’s a lot of running in the Wombat State Forest, Cobaws, Lerdies and Pyrete also, and with runners from towns throughout the entire Macedon Ranges, everyone has their home faves they swear by.

3. What is your favourite local trail? We really couldn’t go past the Macedon loop. It’s our base, it’s our home course. We can concentrate less and chat more when there’s no need to navigate! It’s got great hills, runnable sections and views that take our breath away even now. It’s always a race to get up the mount when snow is forecast – it’s like a magical fairy wonderland.

4. What local event do you rally around? We love Trails Plus Macedon ( because we love showing off our mountain. We’re proud of her, like we’re proud of our own children. Like a child who tests you on the daily, pushes you to your limits and brings out both the best and the worst in us, but at the end of the day we love to the core. Plus, we suspect Race Director Brett Saxon just finds the hardest parts of our mount to test runners on, so it’s great to watch the visitor’s reaction to the slopes.

5. What single piece of advice would you guys give a newbie joining your group? Don’t be frightened off by the level of crazy! Sometimes certain members of the group *ahem* lose perspective and end up running crazy long hours, in the middle of the night, in a snowstorm, and think it’s… fun. What we end up hearing is: “I could never run with your group!” But this isn’t the case at all! We really are a friendly

7. If you were heading out for a solo ultra-run and some bastard stole your pack so you can only take two things, what would you have in each hand? In the left hand - Dora the Explorers backpack. Anyone with a kid knows that backpack has bloody everything in it, on that note I might as well bring Dora and Boots, I just know they will be able to get me through the enchanted pine forest, up the Magic Goat Track and back to the Kingdom of the Trading Post for magical caffeinated beverage. In the right hand – mobile phone, for Strava, obviously, and we never run without the obligatory selfies!

8. The world is ending – nominate a trail anywhere on the planet that your group must run, it’s the last trail you’ll ever see…where is it? Well let’s see…it would need to be cold, because it’s always cold on Mount Macedon, so we really don’t know how to deal with heat. It would need to be long because, let’s not waste a flight overseas for a short run! It would need to be epic because we are adventure chasers. And it would need hills because #goattracklyf. So we would say Glen Coe Skyline in Scotland!

trail CREW NAME: Macedon Ranges Trail Runners (MRTR) BIRTHDAY: 8 July, 2014 REGION: Macedon Ranges, Victoria

9. Your group can choose ANY three people on earth, living or dead, to come join one of your runs…who are they and why them?

MEMBERS: 500 on FB, but more like 80

1. Cliff Young – you don’t need to be fast to be great 2. Lazarus Lake – he’d have some great stories to tell! 3. Eddie Vedder – so we could rock our way around the mount.


AVERAGE RUNNERS AT EACH HOOK UP: 15 AVERAGE HOOK UPS A YEAR: 50 UNOFFICIAL CLUBHOUSE: Mt Macedon Trading Post WEB: macedonrangestrailrunners 33




The Rise of the Ultra Runners:

A Journey to the Edge of Human Endurance By Adharanand Finn


f you are a book fan as well as a runner, then the name Adharanand Finn should be familiar to you, he being the author of two other also-excellent books about running cultures. Those prior releases are both spun around personal odysseys into the heart of what makes the cultures he explores – Kenyan and Japanese – so deeply entwined with running. The thing I enjoyed about his previous exploratory efforts was that Finn is not just a researcher satisfied to sit at his desk, dialing in the interviews – rather he laces up both metaphorically and literally to understand his subject matter. In his first book, Running with the Kenyans, Finn moves his young family to Kenya to study and train with the runners of Iten, the epicenter of one the most productive places on earth for marathon runners. In his second book, The Way of the Runner, the family are up and off again to settle in Japan in order to study the absorbing passion around ‘Ekiden’ racing in Japan. Finn is an author who puts himself out there – on the road and the trail – pushing past personal boundaries and risking much physical pain, frustration and downright confusion to experience and attempt to understand these curious running cultures. Both books are rollercoaster adventures featuring engaging and often phenomenal characters along with excellent insights into how running seeps into, informs and can often valuably reflect on broader culture-scapes, ones that we can often only wonder at as outsiders looking in, but as runners, now connect to through

Finn’s journalism. When I heard that he was working on a book specifically about running ultras – an activity that I think we can agree has now spawned a subculture in and of itself – I was excited. As always, Finn delivers to that anticipation. What I like about the book is Finn’s continued investment: once again, it’s a truly personal journey. This time based more in the UK, where Finn now lives, the narrative still follows Finn as he truly immerses himself into the world of the ultra-endurance athlete. The idea of running 100km or 200km, or running through the night, or over crazy terrain, is especially intriguing to Finn who casts himself as predominantly a road and marathon runner. He finds it hard to reconcile such (to him) extreme distances and experiences with his own quest, one that until now has been purely about getting faster rather than pushing further. As he slowly gets hooked by trail and ultras, Finn’s sights become set on earning enough qualifying points to gain entry into one of the biggest endurance outings of them all – and perhaps the showy pinnacle for trail runners – the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB). Along the way he travels the globe racing and training and hanging out with some wonderful characters and many names well-known to any trail or ardent ultra fan. As he starts to stretch his run distances and push his own boundaries in training, Finn experiences the highs of running in a flow state and the lows of grinding through the night, feeling truly spent and done for.


And with each step and each page, he brings himself and us closer to an understanding of the thing that swirls around within the mind of runner and non-runner alike: why do this ‘ultra’ thing? I mean, it hurts! He muses on why we’d do it to ourselves, the existential quandaries that arise while suffering (like how ultra runners are essentially overcoming the natural inclination of our brain’s hardwiring to protect us from pain and suffering), why Kenyans haven’t broken into the sport, a brief look at particular nutrition programs, and the increased importance and thus focus of such in the ultra space. For Trail Run Mag readers, much of it will ring familiar, yet Finn never bores: his investigations from the ‘other side of the fence’ (new to trail and ultra), still shed light for anyone seeking inspiration whether you are, like him, new to the endurance game or an old ultra hand. For the later, it’s still a great reflection and remembrance on how it feels to overcome what at first appears to be insurmountable. And no matter where your progression is at running long, that sense of insurmountable remains in place, an ever-present motivator to tackle the next big challenge. It’s an inspiring read and Finn is fully invested as he ties up shoelaces at some of the biggest and toughest races, his quest culminating in a satisfying understanding of the ‘why’. It a must read for anyone that’s followed a similar path down the ultra funnel. Or at least is contemplating giving it a go.

Now available online at










Bell Tolls for whom the

Q&A WITH Jacqui Bell




WHEN TRAIL RUN MAG LAST CAUGHT UP WITH JACQUI BELL (EDITION 29), SHE WAS HALFWAY THROUGH HER QUEST TO BECOMING THE YOUNGEST FEMALE TO COMPLETE THE FOUR DESERTS GRAND SLAM (GOBI, SAHARA, ATACAMA, ANTARCTICA). BUT HER PLAN EXPANDED BEYOND THE ORIGINAL QUARTET OF CONTINENTAL QUAD KILLERS AND AFTER 1850KM AND TEN LOST TOENAILS, JACQUI IS NOW THE YOUNGEST PERSON EVER TO RUN AN ULTRAMARATHON ON ALL SEVEN CONTINENTS. It wasn’t just the gruelling distances that you faced out there on the multiday stage – you battled plantar fasciitis most of the time, too. How did you manage? I struggled with it through most of the races, which was difficult, especially since I didn’t really have enough time between each (stage race) to deal with it thoroughly. It was particularly bad during Alps2Ocean in New Zealand. Running on hard surfaces was excruciating and I suffered. I got a scan after the race which showed my Fascia being 10mm thickened and the plantar fascia was 30% ruptured, I could barely walk. Luckily, I had a fivemonth window before my final two races in Iceland and USA, so I got several (PRP) plasma injections and was in a moon boot for several weeks. I was limited to swimming and strength training to keep up my fitness. Unfortunately, I got severe shin splints when I started running again and was only able to put in a couple of weeks of training before the Iceland race, which is 250km over six days, followed by the Grand2Grand in the USA a couple of weeks later. I’m just glad to be able to run pain-free again now. After that experience, I promised myself I’d never rock up to a start line injured again! Straight after you finished your final multiday, you ran the Blackall 100km back here in Australia (Queensland). Is it true that this was your first proper trail ultramarathon outside of a multiday and first 100km? Yes! Funnily enough, before Blackall I’d only ever hiked the Oxfam 100km in a team and run a 50km road race. I feel

pretty experienced as a multiday runner now in regards to knowing what I am in for, but a total rookie at the single stage stuff. I really had no clue how I would go. My biggest unknown was food, since it’s so rationed in multistage races, I didn’t really know how much I’d be eating. I ended up packing more food in each of my drop bags for Blackall than I did for a whole week on a stage race! I loved the experience. I got to share some kilometres with Dean Karnazes who was also running and shared the whole race with one of my close friends, Dan, who I had run with in Iceland. I’ll definitely be going back next year, and I’m also planning on tackling my first 100 miler at the Brisbane Trail Ultra in 2020.

When I decided I wanted to do the Four Deserts Grand Slam, I knew I wanted to raise funds for a mental health charity due to my own struggles, so it was kind of a no brainer that I would partner up with White Cloud. I really like the values that they stand for and promote; they say that for someone to be healthy, it’s a combination of being physically, mentally, emotionally and socially healthy – there’s so much more than JUST the mental side of mental health that feeds into being healthy. How do you think this experience has shaped you over the last couple of years? I decided to do this just over two years ago now, and I haven’t looked back. I guess that while I never expected it to, the experience has become a new way of life for me and has shaped most of my decisions, and it’s taught me so much along the way. During those races, I was put into situations that I’d never been in before and it completely flipped the way I interact with the unexpected. I experienced things I’d never encountered, at times where my emotions were so heightened and it took a lot of growing up and self-awareness to manage those situations. I’ve learned that perspective is everything and it’s taught me how not to be reactive to things I can’t control, and to discern what’s worth putting my energy into. One of the most memorable experiences that shaped me was during the first race in Namibia when I was brand new at the multiday gig, and I had a really long day. I was just in a tough place and was out there for over 19 hours of which seven I was

What has been your favourite race since we last spoke to you? Definitely the Atacama desert race in Chile. The landscapes were amazing, so different to anything I’d experienced before, and the town where we were based, San Pedro, was a lot of fun. You’ve been fundraising for the White Cloud Foundation throughout this journey. What prompted you to choose that specific charity and why? In 2016 I had a really bad scooter accident while I was living in Bali. I was flown back to Australia and taken to the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital. It happens that the director of the cardiac science unit there was Professor Adam Scott, who also happened to be a family friend and the head of the White Cloud Foundation. This whole chain of events is what planted the seed in my head.



"IT COMPLETELY FLIPPED THE WAY I INTERACT WITH THE UNEXPECTED" completely alone. I think I cried for about seven hours straight. Now I look back and think that if I’d put all that energy from having a tantrum into just putting my head down and getting the day done, it would’ve been far more productive. Stuff is always going to come up; adapt the plan and keep trucking. This whole experience has just been life lesson after life lesson.


How has your future been impacted by your journey? I originally just wanted to do the 4 Deserts Grand Slam to help myself, I never thought it would turn into running on every continent. I just needed to build healthier habits and a better routine at the time; I desperately needed to turn my life around. Never would I have ever guessed it would lead me here, almost two years later, still running and talking about my experience to others. I never set out to “inspire” people or go down the corporate speaking route. It really shows that when you find that thing that makes you tick and gives you a real sense of purpose and motivation to go after something that scares you, you’ll do anything it takes to make it happen. I think that this has had such a drastic effect on how I’ll live the rest of my life, and I’ll always be seeking out that passion that this project has brought out in me. I think sometimes the way my lifestyle comes across can be misconstrued; it probably comes across like I travel the world, run these epic races overseas, living off sponsors, but that’s just a very small part of what goes into what I do. Behind the scenes I have to work really hard; for

1. NAMIBIA DESERT, NAMIBIA, AFRICA, 250km / namibrace 2. GOBI DESERT, MONGOLIA, ASIA, 250km / gobimarch 3. ATACAMA DESERT, CHILE, SOUTH AMERICA, 250km / ww.racingtheplanet. com/atacamacrossing 4. ANTARCTICA DESERT, ANTARCTICA, 250km / thelastdesert 5. ALPS TO OCEAN, SOUTH ISLAND, NEW ZEALAND, 323km / 6. FIRE & ICE, ICELAND, 250km \ 7. GRAND2GRAND, GRAND CANYON, UTAH, USA, 273km \


every 20 sponsorship applications I send out, I’ll get 19 rejections. There’s no stability for me just yet, no guarantees, I’m constantly scrimping and I still work as a personal trainer to make ends meet. Yet at the end of the day, after all is said and done, if I ask myself “Is this worth the struggle?”, the answer is always yes, and I would hope this would be a benchmark for me in my future endeavours. On the topic of corporate speaking and sponsorship, how have you found navigating that particular space? It is definitely challenging and a lot of work, but I love a challenge. I knew from the get-go that if I was going to be successful in completing the 4 Deserts, the obstacles were going to be beyond the physical and mental struggles – financially it was going to be a real stretch. I knew I would need support from brands and companies for my entry fees as these races are no cheap undertaking. Even working 50 hours a week in the gym wasn’t going to cover it. It was a real learning curve when it came to gaining sponsorship, I was kind of figuring it out along the way. I learnt early on that it is like a relationship – it wasn’t all about what I wanted, I had to be able to offer the brand something significant in return. Has this journey panned out to be what you thought it would? No, not at all. I didn’t think after completing the 4 Deserts Grand Slam that I’d continue on and do all seven










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continents. I didn’t think I’d want to keep running, but I enjoy it more now than ever, and it’s become such a pivotal thing in my life. If I could be out doing desert runs out all of the time I would but that wouldn’t be realistic! If you could write a letter to yourself before starting this journey, what would you say? I would tell myself to keep trying different things, even if I come up short. The truth is that I had very little credibility when I first announced I was attempting the 4 Deserts. I’d spent the previous couple of years jumping from one place to another, I hadn’t really committed to anything this big before. I am so glad that I made the conscious effort two years ago to make this massive decision and lifestyle change or I would have continued on the downward spiral that I was on. I would say to myself, and to anyone feeling they are lacking purpose, to keep pushing, keep trying new things and never settle until you find whatever it is that makes you tick. If you don’t have a crack, regardless of the outcome, you will never know what is possible and where it might take you. How do you juggle your running lifestyle with that of being a 24-year old? My lifestyle is definitely a little leftof-center compared to my social circles; I wasn’t brought up in the mountains or in a family that did this kind of stuff.


My friends enjoy the finer things in life and socialising is definitely a big part of their lives (and mine). But whilst their lifestyles are very different from mine, they are really supportive. I do try and go out and socialise, but these days I have to be smart about my decisions regarding going out, and drinking. If I chose a night in over going out partying I don’t feel like I’m missing out or sacrificing anything, because doing well in my running is really important to me, and besides, it holds me accountable; I got into this lifestyle to move away from my partying habits and at the end of the day, running is what makes me the best version of myself.

Top 3 favourite races? Coast to Coast in New Zealand, Grand2Grand Ultra in the USA and the Atacama Desert race in Chile. Favourite moment? Swimming in a lagoon mid race in Chile. Worst anecdote from on the trail? Seven hours of crying and having an absolute breakdown/tantrum in Namibia

You said that your family doesn’t have much to do with running. How do they feel about what you’re doing? My parents were definitely very skeptical when I first started, and probably didn’t think it was a sustainable endeavour, especially given how volatile my lifestyle was before I decided to do the 4 Deserts. But they’ve seen how it’s changed my life over the past two years and they’re incredibly supportive and proud now, because they see how much I enjoy it and how hard I work to make it happen. I think, like every parent, they’re just glad that I’m doing what I love and no longer engaging in some of the destructive habits I had in the past.

Favourite trail food? I accidentally discovered that if you mix M&Ms and Toblerone in a Ziploc bag on a hot day, it mixes into its own epic chocolate bar and freezes back together in the evening when the temperature drops. (So, would that be a TobleroMMe? Ed.) Trail music? I enjoy listening to Sigrid’s (Norwegian singer and songwriter) latest album out on the trails.

Follow her journey at:







h g i H Ultra

Remember when a 100km event was ‘the new marathon’? Then a miler was the box to tick. Of late, the 200-miler. But what about when the stats push well past 500km with five 5300m-plus high passes punching you into the dangerously thinning Indian atmosphere? Australian Jason Reardon heads to Kashmir to get ultra-high. WORDS: SHAIL DESAI IMAGES: SHAIL DESAI, CHRIS ORD


t was 57 hours into the race and the mind games had started within Australian, Jason Reardon. During an ungodly hour of the night, he was descending Tanglang La – a high altitude pass at 5328m on the Manali-Leh highway in the far northern reaches of India. The fatigue of enduring hundreds of kilometres was taking its toll and hallucinations had set in. In the distance, Reardon now saw the flickering lights of a shopping centre. A few moments later, a lady conjured out of thin air, hurling crosses at him, while Oriental warriors jumped out of the barren side of the mountain. The white lines on the road had transformed into slithering snakes that blocked his path, while cats and dogs were part of a melee a little ahead. When he mentioned the apparitions to his crew, they simply shrugged their shoulders, all too aware of the state of mind he was in.

Reardon decided to take a breather and looked up to find himself under a blanket of stars. In that fleeting moment, he set aside the fact that he was running the La Ultra. For moments like these was the reason he had signed up for a race that ran a mammoth 555km, while climbing to an altitude of 5300m on five occasions in the semi-arid desert of Ladakh. Resuming his run, his thoughts revolving around all that he had endured until then – during the race and in life. A smile broke out on his chiselled face. It wasn’t the first time his mental fortitude had been tested and he knew that he had it in him to push on. And the reward came five days and 19 minutes later, when he crossed the finish line to win the inaugural 555km category during the 10th edition of the La Ultra. While the distance and duration of the race may seem extreme, what makes La Ultra a real test is the altitude over which

it is run. The dry air and rough roads only add to the misery of some of the toughest runners, who try to keep calm despite taking a beating over the course. Ladakh borders China to the east and Pakistan to the west, and the presence of Indian Army personnel can hardly be ignored while travelling through the region. Its remoteness means that at times, basic amenities translate to luxuries in these parts. There are two approach roads into the district headquarters of Leh – one from Manali and the other from Srinagar – besides an airport that has brought rampant tourism to the region. But there was a time when Leh was an integral part of the Silk Route and the high passes were negotiated by traders and caravans, who journeyed miles in order to get to their destination. Though most take to vehicular transport these days, a few adventurers




still prefer slower alternatives to soak in the spectacular landscape featuring high mountains, dotted with oases and pristine water bodies where civilisation has flourished. It is this setting that drew race director, Dr Rajat Chauhan, when he first conceptualised the idea of a foot race over a decade ago. But on approaching the adventure wing of the Indian Army and sharing his thoughts with sports medicine colleagues, they simply scoffed at his vision and told him that it couldn’t be done because of the altitude. It was enough reason for Chauhan – an ultra marathoner himself – to set the wheels in motion and put together the La Ultra in 2010, starting with the 333km category. It soon graduated to the 222km and 111km category, before celebrating the 10th anniversary of the race with the staggering 555km distance. “The idea was to celebrate the human spirit and what it was capable of even during the first year. In a race like this one, there’s a lot of excitement but the layers start peeling off once you get here and your true character is on display – for better or for worse. That’s what is really classy about this place,” Chauhan says. Reardon would hardly disagree, having won the 222km last year. It had tested his limits, considering the fact that the longest ultra he had run before that one was 100km. After a quick first half in about 15 hours, he was bogged down by a stomach bug that forced multiple loo breaks and caused severe dehydration, reducing him at times to a crawl. It took a massive effort to take the race in a time of 46 hours 38 minutes. It was then time to raise the bar when the opportunity arose.

“When I heard of the 555km category, my first reaction was that it was a long way off. But I’ve always looked forward to challenges since I think it is important to test your boundaries and see what you can actually do,” Reardon says. It was a habit that he had embraced after hitting rock bottom in life. While growing up in Canberra, Reardon played a lot of football and baseball, and preferred sprinting distances as compared to the long haul that he indulges in today. When he joined the Australian Army at 21, routine involved more strength training as compared to endurance, a habit that Reardon follows today, making him bulkier physically than the average ultra runner. The order in his life though turned topsy-turvy when his baby passed away a few days after birth while he was away on exercise. It was only when he got back home about three weeks later, that he heard the news from his now ex-wife. “I momentarily quit the Army but decided to go back. Just weeks after the incident, I was back to the grind. I was training hard to become a commando and put my head into it, so did really fine. In the meantime, my partner was slipping into depression and at the heart of it, she blamed me for what had happened. We soon went our separate ways,” he says. When the work slowed down in the Army over the next three years, before he realised it, Reardon slipped into depression himself, taking to drink as a means of finding some solace. Four years later, he quit the army to find something to focus on and rebuild his life after returning home to Canberra.


While working with a doctor, Reardon realised that he wanted to get off medicines and find a natural cure for his ailment. And the answer came through the most unlikely of activities. One of the things that had been a constant in his life was a drive towards fitness. In 2008, Reardon stepped out for his first run around a lake near his home; by the time he stopped, he had covered about 20km. “I'd always been fit, yet I don’t think I had run over 10km before. It allowed me to be free, since there was nothing else to think about, just me and the task ahead." There was hardly a day Reardon would skip his runs, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later that he ran his first half marathon. When he clocked an hour and 24 minutes, it only encouraged him to train harder and he was soon running these races regularly, while spreading the word on mental health and counselling folks every now and then. “To look back when I had depression and to be able to help others in similar situations means a lot and is a major motivating factor. When you're suffering, you don’t really know what’s happening you’re a different person,” he says. “Even now I have down times. I don’t really speak to people that much – these are the times I just pick up on my training and don’t put mind to what is troubling me,” he says. However, just as he was gaining momentum, Reardon suffered another setback when he met with an accident while in south-east Asia in 2012. He was left with a fractured pelvis, punctured lung, broken foot and head trauma. The doctors said that he would never run the same way again. But only Reardon knew







what running had given him and on recovering, did everything to get back to his best. A couple of years after the accident, Reardon was tackling obstacle courses and 24-hour races, and by 2017, had run his first ultra in Sydney. “I was a regular on the obstacle course racing circuit. I didn’t really train well for the 100km race – just about 50km a week for three months. But after running a few ultras, I realised that a lot of times, it helped me switch off. It’s like meditation where you just shut out everything else,” Reardon says. “At times you also think how crazy it is and question your reasons for doing it. But then the desire to improve soon hits you and it’s enough reason to keep at it. Of course, it is important to know how hard to push so that you don’t hurt yourself in the process,” he adds. While looking up races around the world, his wife Carly came across the La Ultra last year and pushed him to run it while she joined the crew. The race tested their limits, a hard mental battle that he managed to overcome. But when it came to 555km, it was simply a step into the unknown. Six months before the race, Reardon got started on training specifically for the distance. The mileage added up to between 80km and 100km each week. Most of the focus was on strength training and meditation – the latter, at times, twice a day. He also ran his first and only marathon before the race, clocking an incredible 2hr 59min on it. To gear up for the altitude, Reardon invested in a tent that simulated high altitude conditions. “It isn’t really possible to train for 555km. The most important aspect was sticking to the schedule, which I hadn’t done before,” Reardon says. Reardon’s plan was to run the race at a faster pace, so that he would have time to

make corrections if things went wrong. As a result, while the cut-off for his category was 132 hours, his plan was to run it in 96 hours while assigning about 12 hours to rest and sleep. “I usually run over what I could expect during the race that may hinder my progress. It’s more of visualisation to get my mind in the right frame. I always put immense pressure on myself to perform to set an example for anyone following my adventure,” he says.

Besides, there was temperature variation of -25 due to the windchill, all the way up to 40 degree Celsius at times in the day, and only 60% oxygen levels in the thin mountain air to deal with. When day two arrived, Reardon was laid low by a hurting knee, as he slowly slid lower down the order while descending the Wari La. “I couldn’t walk six steps at that time, so they put me in the car and I slept till the medics came. It was more to do with the overuse of the knee, which had happened in other races before. Though I was feeling nice and strong, it was enough pain for me to consider pulling out of the race that night,” he says. While running past one of the Army camps, Reardon had a nervy encounter when the on-duty guard pulled a gun on him and his pacer in the dead of night. Reardon turned his headlamp off, raised his hands and mumbled something about being an Australian runner. “I thought I heard a gun being loaded chachchak. And I was like - woah, this is it! I thought I was going to get shot!” Reardon says. With the duo unable to communicate, it was only when the crew car turned around that the local Ladakhi driver was able to diffuse the situation. A crew change brought some more experienced hands on board and in turn, relief for Reardon. The race strategy was to rest after descending every pass. Yet, the snowstorm on the first two nights took a toll on his body. It’s what Reardon remembers being the low point of the run. But the bigger challenge as he set out on the third day was tackling the Tanglang La – another high pass that had to be negotiated on two occasions in a span of about 24 hours. At the base of the pass, Sharma pulled the plug on his race, bringing it down to three runners.

After arriving in Leh, Reardon made a few visits to the high passes to soak in the altitude, besides a two-day bike and hike trip in the mountains around Leh. The 10day, mandatory acclimatisation stint and the familiarity of being in Leh before did him a world of good, and at the start line in Lakjung in Nubra Valley, he reflected on the past few months and what it would mean to achieve his goals. Alongside him were other strong contenders for the race in Matthew Maday (USA), Lukasz Sagan (Poland), and Ashish Kasodekar and Praveen Sharma (both India). At 6pm, they set out on an epic journey under a light drizzle. The brutal first night battered the runners as they climbed to the Khardung La – at 5359m, one of the highest motorable passes in the world. On the approach to the pass, the snow made conditions miserable, but besides the exhaustion of running in knee-deep snow, Reardon was at ease in the cold. Sagan on the other had missed the cut-off at the pass by a few minutes. By the time Reardon got to the 111km mark, he was ahead of the other runners in his category. However, a novice support crew made the going tough. “I was trying to train them and run my race at the same time, which was a bit hard,” he recalls.






“IT WAS ENOUGH PAIN FOR ME TO CONSIDER PULLING.” Reardon was having problems of his own. The encounter with the soldier and the hurting knee had muddled his head. Besides, the 250km or so he had done until then was the longest he had run yet. He lay down on the backseat of his crew car, dreaming of ending the race yet again, hoping to soon stand under a hot shower before retiring to a cosy bed. As he snapped out of his reverie, he realised he was losing time. There was now a need to pick up the pace to avoid missing the cut-off at Debring. It took a massive effort to run over 5,000 metres, but he eventually made it to the 333km mark in third place. “Running at speed at such high altitudes all the way down was risky, but at least now I could rest. I rarely get emotional, but I was feeling it all now, my eyes were tearing up. My mate Craig led me to the core support car where I climbed in with a bottle of water and just started crying. I had pulled off the impossible and attained a massive milestone in my life,” he says. With another tight cut-off awaiting the runners at Lato, and a storm approaching in the distance, there was little time to rest. Running up Tanglang La that night,

the weather gods were kind and Reardon stopped on a few occasions to admire the carpet of stars. By the time morning arrived, he had made the cut-off at Lato. There was now one final climb remaining up the Wari La. But as he set out from Lato, his body hurt with each step. It took a hearty effort to stay focussed and gear up for a freezing climb up the high pass that night. Running in second, Reardon was fighting a battle up the Wari La. The body begged him to stop, but his oxygen-starved mind fought on to keep pushing ahead. In those early morning hours, the first light set the snow-capped peaks aglow, as his eyes adapted to the magic unfold around him. Reardon put all his plans on hold to soak in the wonderland. The inspiration was enough to drive him to the penultimate checkpoint at Serthi. “When I learned that Matt (Maday, running in first place) had decided to get some sleep, I knew it was the opportunity I had been looking for. Resting after every descent had helped me recover well and I felt strong. To everyone’s surprise, I made a quick turn from the checkpoint to continue the final 64km to the finish in

Leh,” Reardon says. Running along the Indus, Reardon had one ear on Maday’s progress, expecting him to come bounding past at any minute until he received news that he was a good distance away. It was now down to him to keep a steady pace to make the finish at Shanti Stupa in Leh. As the sun dipped over the mountains in the distance, Reardon took on the final climb to the finish. By then, his crew had taken to running alongside him. A few metres from the finish line, he took off alone to become the first finisher of the 555km category. “I was so hungry at the finish but couldn’t speak, let alone eat, because of ulcers in my mouth. There were people congratulating me, but I couldn’t register a word of what they were saying. I didn’t even know if some of them were real or whether I was just imagining things again. I couldn’t wait for it all to sink in,” Reardon says. When the high wore off, Reardon realised that he wasn’t dreaming, he really had pulled off the biggest achievement of his life, winning the inaugural La Ultra 555km.




4 1 s ’ n a Nol m i t: i L e h t d n o y e B

FKT-hunter, Sunny Stroeer, takes up a lesson in humility after joining two other gutsy gal pal adventurers in tackling Nolan’s 14, an epic multi-peak challenge in Colorado, USA WORDS & IMAGES: SUNNY STROEER




y feet are blistered and my knees are audibly creaking as I stumble out of the woods half an hour after sunrise. The first thing that my brain registers is Andrew, a broad grin on his face and words of encouragement on his lips. I don’t know him very well – in fact, I’d never met Andrew prior to that early dawn three days ago – but I do know that he shouldn't be there. “Andrew...” I mumble, my voice cracking. “The weekend is over. You’re supposed to be at work.” “Ah, details,” he smiles mischievously. “There was no way I was going to miss this. Guess what I told my boss when I called in sick this morning!?” I look at him quizzically. My brain isn’t working; I’m still not quite sure if Andrew’s apparition is real or merely the hallucinatory effect of three consecutive nights without sleep. That’s when his girlfriend, Dana, enters my field of vision and chimes in. “Sunny! You gals are just incredible. No kidding, Andrew called his boss a little while ago and said ‘T here’s some

rad chicks doing epic shit here in the Sawatch’ and that he couldn’t show up at to work until you all had finished your run. I’m floored. Floored by Andrew’s and Dana’s enthusiasm for this fastest known time (FKT) project and floored by how starkly their enthusiasm contrasts what I am feeling at this very moment – the exact opposite of rad, as I’m right in the middle of NOT finishing what I had set out to do: Nolan’s 14. Nolan’s 14, of course, is the crown jewel of ultra-distance mountain linkups in the United States. The route spans fourteen distinct 4000 metre peaks in the Sawatch range of the Colorado Rockies, over a course of roughly 170 kilometres. With more than 13,000 metres of cumulative ascent and a host of long, techy off-trail segments, only a handful of hardy mountain runners – including no more than three women, among them Kiwi ultra-queen Anna Frost – have been able to complete the full link-up since it first was conceived in 1999.

I am a mountain runner, and high altitude speed records are my speciality. I have set a few of them in the great ranges around the world, so naturally I was drawn towards Nolan’s 14. The near-unattainable nature of the line was appealing to me, as was the fact that Nolan’s is not a sanctioned race but an FKT effort. Yet for years, I had pondered the challenge from afar without feeling ready to commit. I watched as the biggest names in US ultra running cut their teeth on Nolan’s, and couldn’t imagine actually jumping in. The route was too big, too fast, too hard; it was a route for elites, not for me. Yet here I am this morning, at the southern-most trailhead of Nolan’s 14, stumbling out of the woods after three days and nights of almost non-stop effort. I am not claiming a new FKT on Nolan’s – in fact I didn’t even manage to complete the line – but as I smile broadly at Andrew and Dana I know that I am part of something much, much bigger.



The route was too big, too fast, too hard; it was a route for elites, not for me.

It all started three days prior. My friends Tara, Ilana and I rendezvoused at the storied Leadville National Fish Hatchery trailhead shortly after sunrise, ready for an epic journey on Nolan’s 14. Anticipation was riding high: this was the first time that all three of us had assembled in the same spot, and we each had our own questions about whether or not we had any business attempting Nolan’s. Ilana was barely recovered from a bout of bronchitis that she had picked up from her two-year-old daughter earlier in the week; Tara had just flown in from her home in sea-level San Diego which meant that she was lacking both acclimatisation and firsthand knowledge of the tricky-to-navigate terrain that is Nolan’s 14; and I, even though I was healthy and acclimatised, had just returned from another mountain speed record mission in China which had unquestionably depleted my reserves. Yet here we were, our ragtag little team of three, ready to get on the biggest mountain linkup in the continental US. The Fish Hatchery trailhead was quiet, save for Ilana’s occasional cough and snippets of muted conversation between Tara, Ilana and myself as we systematically readied our gear. A lonely truck cruised nearby and pulled up next to us. “You ladies look like you’re about to do something big. Can I help?” We exchanged confused glances; the driver was a complete stranger to all of us. “My name is Gavin. I ran Nolan’s a few years ago, and when I saw in the Nolan’s 14 Facebook group that you were planning to go for it, I just had to come out to offer my support.” Gavin had just barely finished his sentence when a second car pulled up, this one emanating loud whoops, mixed with an energetic bark. After the car came to a stop, its doors flew open, and two tall humans and an excited dog spilled out.

“Ilana! We’re here! This is going to be epic.” Ilana’s subdued cough turned into a radiant smile. “Dana! Andrew! No way. I can’t believe you came all the way out here for me. How long are you planning to stay?” “However long it’s going to take,” Dana beamed back at Ilana. “Andrew just has to get back in time for work on Tuesday morning.” And just like that, completely unexpectedly, our Nolan’s support crew had grown from two – Tara’s and my husbands – to five. In an instant, the mood at the trailhead transformed from quiet concentration into an excited hubbub of introductions and frenzied last-minute logistics talk. The plan is simple: there is crew access every few peaks along the Nolan’s route, with dirt roads leading into most the valleys that dissect the Sawatch range. The notable exception is a stretch of seven summits, starting at Huron (peak #4 on a southbound Nolan’s run) and finishing with Mt Yale (peak #10), which we expect will take us just over twenty-four long, hard hours to complete. “We’ll see you at the first crew point. Go, go, go!” As a previous Nolan’s finisher, Gavin knows we can’t afford to linger at the start. It is 7am on the dot when we reluctantly hug the crew goodbye start our GPS tracking; within minutes the three of us are enveloped by subalpine solitude, smoothly pushing uphill on forest single track. “Can you believe those guys?” Tara verbalised what has been going through all of our minds. “To just show up like that and sacrifice a full long weekend for some strangers’ running project... amazing.” Ilana and I concur, and we all feel the warmth of gratitude on this chill late


summer morning. The chill doesn’t last long: with almost 1500m of ascent from the trailhead to Mt Massive, the first of our fourteen summits, we soon reach operating temperature – particularly as we have to leave the initial gentle trail after the first few kilometres and earn our vertical progress with valiant cross-country route finding. We reach the summit of Mt Massive ahead of goal pace and move straight along. Onwards to a knee-destroying descent back down into a deep valley, to tackle Mt Elbert, both the highest mountain in Colorado and one of the biggest individual climbs of Nolan’s 14. Mt Elbert’s west ridge, a steep talus field, is emblematic of the character or Nolan’s 14: it gains almost 1000 vertical metres in just 1.5 kilometres, and the footing is treacherous. We are only two peaks into the route, but it is already apparent that Ilana’s lungs are severely compromised by her recent bout with bronchitis. Tara and I try to encourage her as best we can, but we all have to quickly acknowledge that Ilana’s odds of completing this mission are marginal at best. Despite Ilana’s difficulty breathing we make good progress as a team. The first day flies by; before we know it we have covered a good forty kilometres, breezed through our first crew point (which brought even more surprise volunteers: my friend Jaime and her mom who was visiting from out of state!), climbed another 4000m peak, and started the dreaded stretch of seven no-crew-access summits shortly after nightfall. It is here that Ilana’s illness finally catches up with her. “Sunny, Tara... I can’t breathe. My legs are feeling great but I just can’t get enough air – I have to drop.” We are huddled close to one another in the pitch black night, on a rocky ledge






at 4100m not far below the summit of Mt Huron. A strong wind has kicked up and rips Ilana’s words from her blue lips. I hate to see her turn around, but I know that she is making the right call: once past the summit of Mt Huron we will be in no man’s land, on remote and technical terrain with no easy bailout options for the next 20 hours. So we split. Ilana heads back down the hill, to the last crew access point where we hope my husband will still be camping until morning, while Tara and I continue up and over Huron. Since Tara hasn’t been able to scout the route ahead of time, it is up to me to navigate us through the night. I lead us down a steep mixes gully – steeper yet than Mt Elbert’s dreaded west ridge, and partially filled with lingering late season snow. I am relieved when I nail the line; even without navigation mishaps there is plenty of opportunity for consequential slips and broken limbs on this descent. Tara and I make it down the mountain without incident. We keep trucking through the night, further downward in dense forest, through a creek, then up the steep grassy tundra that is Mt Missouri. Sunrise catches up with us just below the summit, as does an energetic day hiker who easily blows past our now-sluggish pace. We’ve been on the go for almost 24 hours. At least we are now back on a developed trail and right in the middle of three summits that are all in close proximity of one another, linked by ridge lines that only lose a few hundred metres of elevation in between the peaks. This part of Nolan’s is about as easy as it gets and the early morning sun does its part to help lift our spirits. As if that wasn’t enough, we soon see a small figure running towards us. It’s Andrew, and he is wielding a large thermos. “Tara, Sunny! Here, have some hot ramen. You must be starving! What else do you want? Bacon? Coffee? Oatmeal? Chips? We’ve got an aid station set up for you over on Mt Belford!” Once again, Tara and I are speechless. We were not expecting any crew support up here yet Andrew and Dana, on their own volition, started up before dawn from a trailhead down in the valley to climb a 4000m peak with packs full of cooking

equipment and food for us. I don’t often cry during ultra runs, but as Tara and I crest the final ridge of Belford to see Dana sitting cross-legged in the dirt, cooking up some mouth-watering bacon in the early morning sun, I sure come close. And this won’t be the last time: ten hours and three hard summits later Tara and I reach another set of unexpected crew angels, friends of mine from Boulder, who hiked in three miles and waited for us all afternoon at a random junction in the forest, in order to provide hot food and help keep Tara and me moving ahead of the last big peak of this long ‘no-crew’ crux of Nolan’s. Yet despite all of our amazing old and new friends’ best efforts, I personally am nearing my physical and psychological limits. One of Nolan’s characteristics is that it is relentless: each summit is followed by a steep descent which leads to yet another 1000m + climb to gain the next 4000m peak. So far, Tara and I have both managed to systematically move through each up and down - until the summit of Mt Columbia (peak #9). This is where the residual fatigue from my recent China FKT rears its ugly head. While Tara catches a second wind and rallies on the boulder scramble to Columbia’s summit, I crash and burn. Each step feels like a monumental effort, and what’s worse is that I am beginning to hear the tell-tale gurgling that is HAPE presenting deep down in my lungs. I battle my way to the summit while fighting to hold back tears of frustration. At this point, Tara and I start to discuss options. Despite her lack of acclimatisation, Tara has been moving with incredible strength, but she doesn’t know the course, and there is still plenty of route-finding to be done between now and the finish. I hesitate to leave her to her own devices, even though I can feel my spirit breaking and know that I won’t have it in me to complete all 14 summits on this attempt. In a way, the decision is easy: with my sluggish pace, there is no way that we will be able to get to the last summit within 60 hours which is the official time limit for Nolan’s; Tara, on the other hand, might still have a shot at making it. I start laying out a plan. “How about this: if I drop at the crew point after Yale, you can do Princeton solo;

after all, that’s the one mountain you’ve done before. And then for the last three summits, we’ll figure out a way to get you a pacer – maybe our new friend Gavin will be game.” Tara is visibly torn. I can tell that she is not ready to let me drop, but she is equally eager to continue moving and pick up the pace in the hopes of finishing sub 60 hours. “Okay, let’s do it,” she finally relents. Which is why, when in the pre-dawn hours of Monday morning, we finally reach the next road access point where our crew vehicles are waiting for us, I exhaustedly stop my watch and gratefully curl up in my sleeping bag – more than forty-four hours after we first set our at the Fish Hatchery trailhead above Leadville. Tara, in the meantime, continues on through the night. She doesn’t know this yet but she will continue on for the rest of the night, another day, and another full night after that. Any dreams of a new speed record or even an “official” sub60 hours finish of Nolan’s will shatter somewhere on the steep talus slopes of Mt Princeton, the eleventh peak that Tara ticks off by herself. Yet even knowing that she can’t finish under the cut-off, Tara will continue on and Gavin and I – barely rested after a handful hours of fitful sleep – will pace her home through the last three peaks and third and final sleepless night of her monumental effort. By all accounts our Nolan’s 14 mission is a failure. As I stumble out of the woods on Tuesday morning to announce Tara’s impending arrival at the finish line, almost 71 hours have elapsed since Tara, Ilana and I started our mad dash some 170 kilometres north of here. Yet all of us share one sentiment: that this “unsuccessful” FKT attempt is one of the most powerful, rewarding ultra experiences of our lives. Which only goes to show: Nolan’s 14, or any big and epic project, is not about setting a new record. This is what it’s all about: community, shared dreams, and the transformative experience of going after a goal which may just be beyond the limits of what you are capable of at any given point in time. Follow Sunny’s continuing FKT adventures at




Nolan’s 14: the stats

‘Nolan's 14’ describes fourteen 14-thousand-plus foot peaks in the Sawatch Range, Colorada, USA. Achieving the ‘Nolan’s 14’ run is widely considered to require a single foot-powered push across all 14 peaks from Mt. Massive to Mt. Shavano in either direction in less than 60 hours. The route is open, but the distance is 130km minimum and elevation gain is around 12,200m minimum. It's a big weekend and it's rarely done. More information at One controversy surrounding the challenge is whether the 60-hour cut-off refers to the last summit or the final trailhead. Also, if you go over 60 hours can you be considered a Nolan's 14 ‘finisher’ (i.e., finisher of the ‘event’), or have you merely competed the Nolan's route? Interesting fact: mountaineer Jim Nolan after whom the route is named – he was the first to link up the route on paper and also has bagged every 14 thousand footer in Colorado (54) – refers to the Nolan’s 14 as "the Death Run".


Joe Grant (unsupported) 49 hours 38 minutes (2018) Missy Gosney & Anna Frost (supported – first women) 57hr 55 (2015)*

*There was some discussion at the time of this FKT, as the time was at peak of final summit. Some consider the finish to be at the final trailhead, rather than summit. Either way, an astonishing achievement by Gosney and Frost worthy of recognition.


Alex Nicholas (supported) 46hr 41min (2018) Andrew Hamilton (unsupported) 53hr 39 min (2015) Meghan Hicks (supported) 59hr 36min (2016)







Mountain Masochist New Zealand Race Director, Terry Davis, will find the worst possible hill and send you up it and he’ll do it with a smile. But that’s only because he loves you. No, really. WORDS: VERA ALVES IMAGES: KERRY SUTER & COURTESY TERRY DAVIS


ountain adventurer and most

famous as the director of the iconic Northburn 100 ultra in Central Otago, New Zealand, Terry Davis is known as the guy who laughs in the face of other people’s suffering - and he doesn’t think that’s a bad thing. But there’s a lot more to the ‘sadistic’ race director than meets the eye. The first time we met up for this article, Terry suggested lunch. Lunch with Terry isn’t your average “meet up at a cafe for a pie and a chat” lunch. When I told him we needed to catch up so I could write this, he told me he’d pop around at midday with lunch. “Lunch” it turns out, was lamb’s fry fresh from his farm, which he cooked to absolute Michelin-star perfection in my kitchen

while I distracted him with questions about where he’d grown up and how he’d got into running. We’re in small-town New Zealand now and it shows. He arrives in running gear – because he’ll nip out for a run after this – and stands in the kitchen praising his new running shorts while cracking open a beer and cutting the lamb he’d performed last rites on that morning. That’s Terry to a tee, farmer’s hands, runner’s legs and the disposition of someone who just wants everyone around him to have a good time. Well, that’s not quite true, actually. After lunch, we sit down to talk a bit more and, without the knife and fork as a crutch for small talk, we dig deeper. Whoever knows Terry knows him to


always be smiling. He’s not always been like that. It was around the age of 14, with puberty just hitting, that Terry first realised he was depressed. Well, not just depressed. He realised, for the first time, he was dealing with self-loathing. Fourteen-year-old Terry hated himself. One particular episode sticks in his mind. After years of getting low-level bullied at school, he’d gone away on a school camp with mates. In the bunks one night, they all decided to play a game where the first person to fall asleep would get egged. Terry got egged. That was alright, no big deal. What happened next transformed him. When the next boy fell asleep, Terry joined in on egging him with the others. “Suddenly, I was one of them. I was just


like the guys I didn’t like,” he recalls. “I was already coming from a very sad place. I was already very unhappy with myself. I think because I was male, white and a teenager and the media showed me I ticked all the boxes of the people who caused all the harm. I had a ‘knot of hate’ in my stomach all through my teens.” “It wasn’t until I was 19 that I started turning around. What happened was I had a realisation: one of the things I didn’t like about myself was that I didn’t like myself.” Something had to change and that “something” was Terry’s outlook on life, and himself. One day, he just got sick of being such a “sad ass”. “I thought to myself ‘I got two good legs, two good eyes, I’m pretty lucky’,” he recalls. “It really was that simple. I don’t know where the realisation came from, but it did and from that day onwards I consciously started noticing the things I was lucky for – any small thing. “My motto became that I was always lucky because things could always be worse. For years, I pretended to be happy and positive and just kept telling myself how lucky I was. I looked at qualities I liked in other people and tried to copy them and pretended to be like them. When I was about 23 or 24 years old, I realised I wasn’t pretending anymore.” It is no coincidence that it was at that age that Terry started running. Through it, he discovered facets of himself he’d never had the opportunity to explore. He was working on the boats in Milford Sound when, one day, he got chatting to one of the skippers about the upcoming Kepler Challenge. At that stage, the idea of a 60km mountain run sounded “so dumb” to him. “Not long after that, they had a fun run in Milford, 4km on road. I decided to enter. I did one day’s training, on a trail. Jogging along this track, dodging rocks, jumping over creeks, I felt 10-feet tall and bulletproof. I didn't know the name at the time but this was my first runner's high.” With every rock-dodging step, every creek-crossing and puddle-jumping moment, the boy who hated himself grew into the man who figured out that, actually,

he wasn’t so bad. In fact, not bad at all. A couple of years later, he ended up running the Kepler Challenge on a bit of a whim (remember, this was the late 90s, when you could still enter the Kepler Challenge the week before the event). He was living back in Dunedin by then and had done the Dunedin half marathon and the full marathon so, when a friend suggested the Kepler, he decided it was time to step it up. “It was the 90s so we carbo loaded – pasta for dinner then porridge with condensed milk poured all over it for breakfast before the race. We got to the start line feeling full and a bit sick. I felt sick all day.” He didn’t love how it felt at the time but loved the confidence he drew from it in the days and months to follow. What really lit his fire, though, was his first 24-hour adventure race in Dunedin. “A total of 30 teams started and four finished. We were last but we were also fourth,” he says. “We entered it for a laugh, but it totally kicked our ass. At the time, I absolutely hated it. I was fantasising about blowing up the race director’s house and those thoughts got me through some dark times during it. But then, the next day, we were all so amazed at what we’d achieved. And every day for the next year, whenever we got together, that was all we talked about. The hair still stands up in the back of my neck talking about it.” Once again, he didn’t love it while he was doing it, but he loved having done it. In the months and years to follow, whenever he felt low, he drew strength from the memories of what he’d overcome during the race. But, more importantly, he felt he’d found a purpose. “Through my early to late 20s, I was relatively positive but didn’t feel like life had any purpose. Sure, you can get a job and buy a house and all that but what’s the point? That adventure race gave me a core of confidence and this new excitement for life, which has actually never left me. Every time I need it, I still bring back those memories of that one race.” The best part of the race for him was the trail running portion, done on his feet,


under his own steam, with a pack on his back full of everything he needed. From racing to race directing It all started when Terry’s wife Steph got a job in Wellington and so the family moved up there for a few years. That’s where he took over organising some 24 hour adventure races himself, first on behalf of Richard Anderson (who’s father Ron organised the first one Terry had entered) and then for himself. Terry’s very first event as organiser, The Outdoor Expo & Race Weekend, involved trail running one day and mountain biking the following day. It didn’t stick around for long but it was Terry’s first solo venture into the world of race organizing, and he has never looked back. “I want to give people the opportunity to experience the same transformation racing events gave me,” he says. “What really drives me is setting up opportunities for people to realise that they can do a lot more than they think they can do. You don’t grow as a person from sunny days and sitting on the couch eating pizza. I mean, it’s nice but you don’t grow from that. You need mountains and storms. “I get a sore jaw from smiling so much when people come back from Northburn with their tales of woe and grief. I am the dealer. You’re here for the endorphins and I’m here to hand them out.” World-famous in New Zealand for smiling (even laughing) in the face of race entrants’ misery, Terry says he really only means well and wants the best for everyone. “People sign up for these things because they want a personal challenge. If they have to stop and have a little cry, then they are getting their money’s worth.” It’s funny but it’s no joke. Terry is a deep believer in personal transformation through overcoming obstacles, in whatever way. Mountain running and ultra running are a couple of very good paths to personal growth. It’s really nothing to do with winning or getting a good time or having a great race. Glory and victory are not the point. If all you’re chasing a sense of victory, you can very well get that from finishing a sudoku. That’s not what this is about. Northburn – the race he is the most




"DODGING ROCKS, JUMPING OVER CREEKS, I FELT 10-FEET TALL AND BULLETPROOF." famous for (although infamous might be more accurate) – and all his other races are about getting people to that line that they think they can’t cross, then getting them to cross it. That line often comes long before the race’s actual finish line, and that’s where the transformation happens. The tagline for Northburn is “where suffering is the prize and everyone is a winner”. And Terry means it. If you sign up for Northburn you’ll be out there for a long time and not a really good time – but what matters is what happens once you finish the race. “It’s about giving people the opportunity to transcend the pain. It’s a life-changing revelation and many people never get there.”

For that, he blames the modern comforts of western living. “Regular life is too comfortable. One of the major problems for our mental health is that we don’t have to try hard at anything. We could just order pizza and sit on the couch, don’t even have to go to work tomorrow and we will get looked after,” he says. “I honestly believe the human race has worked really hard to make life worse. We had the best intentions, wanted to help our friends and neighbours and make sure we wouldn’t starve in a famine so we got farming and then preservatives. Then came automatic garage door openers and all these things that make our lives less physical. It ruined us.” The more comfortable life gets, the more


of a need there’ll be for some added physical suffering, especially for the sake of people’s mental wellbeing. “I think we approach mental health really wrong. We keep telling people that it’s ok to talk about it – which it is, obviously – but mental health…you have to do something. You can’t just talk about it. Ultimately, you have to do something. It can be a really small change. And I fully believe in setting your expectations low. Happiness is what you get minus what you expect. If you have low expectations, anything you get gives you a high. Set yourself a minuscule goal, achieve that and you’re good as gold. Then set another slightly harder one and away you go.” For him, it is imperative that the


“suffering” we need to add back into our lives comes from being out in nature. That’s where humans were originally designed to be after all, not on a couch waiting for their food delivery. “People who run ultra mountain events are the most mentally healthy people in the world. The more time you spend in nature, the better off you are.” It’s a lesson he learned the hard way himself and now values a lot. On top of organising the iconic Northburn race, he wears a number of other hats, including his “day job” at the Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust, race director of a few other events, including the Big Easy and the Ultra Easy in January, the Mt Difficulty Ascent, and a number of rogaines throughout the year. Oh, and he’s a father-of-four (and a busy one at that, coaching the kids’ football team and all that). The race director who never sleeps With all of that going on, you won’t be surprised to know that Terry Davis is the race director who never sleeps. Well, hardly ever. Ever since his first child was born, he has struggled with insomnia, which had the silver lining of making him extremely productive from about 2am onwards. He

sleeps a couple of hours a night and “feels like a god” on the rare occasions when he gets a five-hour sleep. He counts his blessings to have his wife to help him out with event organising. “She’s the ying to my yang, we’re a really good team. She’s the practical one, I’m more of a ‘head in the clouds’ type guy.” Earlier this year, Terry – and the wider trail running community – suffered the loss of Wanaka local Ed Stevens, who lost his battle to cancer. Ed was Terry’s partner in Highland Events and the duo was responsible for some of the most iconic local runs around, since the first event they co-organised, the Skyline Challenge, in 2008. “Ed’s loss showed me how many loving people there are around me and in this community. I have had so much support, endless offers of help. Ed was hugely inspirational. A couple of months before he died he said ‘I’m feeling a bit average actually’ and that was the most negative thing he’d ever said. “We weren’t a great team because we just agreed with each other on everything. But we were a good team because we had similar passions and got on so well.”

That support he received from the community was touching but, when he thinks about it, it was no surprise. From his years of race directing, he has learnt that there are few communities quite as empathetic and supportive as the trail community. “It’s incredible. I haven’t met anyone who’s been out there for themselves and not thought of the people around them. It doesn’t matter if you’re elite or not, they’re all just so stoked that other people are out there too.” He knows when people are out there on one of his races, they’re going through tough life experiences but they’re also being looked after by their peers. There might be tears halfway up some of those ridiculous hills, but there are also hugs. Misery loves company and, up in those big climbs, there’s plenty of misery and plenty of company. If his races are full of ups and downs, so is the life of the race director. Through all these years, despite feeling immeasurably lucky to be “living his life’s purpose” by putting on these events, Terry’s bouts of depression often can come knocking again. One of his lowest points happened not long ago, at the 2016 Mt Difficulty Ascent race.


IMAGE: Ben Trainor @trainorwalk



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“A miscommunication between myself, a volunteer and a landowner saw the land owner verbally abuse about four of my volunteers as they left his property postevent. I felt particularly shit for letting the land owner down and for the volunteers copping the abuse. This was the same event during which Ed's wife rang me to have a quiet word and inform me about just how sick Ed was with his cancer (he was always saying he was fine when, in fact, he was far from it). “Halfway through the day (it was quite windy and cold – especially on exposed sections of the mountain) I had this realisation that I was indulging my own ego and fantasies by putting this event on. Meanwhile, Ed was parked on top of a mountain for about six hours and he would be paying for it quite literally in pain for the next few days. “Also, I thought of my 76-year-old dad in his farmer overalls and wooly hat riding the (open to the elements) ATV – by the end of the day he would have done a non-stop 12-hour shift and will be bloody freezing. It all just crushed on me how much I was using people. I got all emotional and was on the point of bursting into tears for the rest of the day. “It actually took me about six months to get over it. I went through this very weird 'slow detached' phase. I couldn't do the most basic stuff. Took me hours to start writing a reply to simple emails, I couldn't figure out stuff I'd usually breeze through. Physically, I was fine though sometimes I just stopped and walked in the middle of flat short runs. All I wanted to do was sit and watch small animals play (we live on a farm, it was spring). I recognised it as a form of depression so I just removed all expectations from myself and carefully put one foot in front of the other knowing that eventually it would pass. And it did.” “One foot in front of the other” continues to be his winning strategy, for life, running and even race directing. He knows these darker periods will always come but stays positive in his knowledge that, after any gruelling uphill battle, comes a nice happy blast down a hill. From running and adventure racing,

he’s taken the lessons that, not only can he do a lot more than his mind tells him he can, but also that life is not one long uphill slog (however much it can feel like that sometimes). There are aid stations and flat bits and mates to give you hugs when you feel like quitting and then there’s the downhill and the endorphins kick in for a proper runner’s high, just like that one he experienced on his very first run in Milford. He knows his events have a reputation for being hard and says that, while he does set them up to be hard, he also thinks some of that is a bit of a myth. “I might be shooting myself in the foot here but my events have a higher 'hard bastard credibility' rating than they deserve. Yes, there is a lot of vert but that is double edged. It’s hard going up hill and all that but, well, it's not so bad if you're walking! And realistically, everyone walks up the hills at my events. You use quite different muscle groups hiking as opposed to running so the uphills genuinely are recovery from the runnable bits and the runnable bits are recovery from the hiking,” he says. “If you just love running you'll hate my events. If you love mountain missions and adventure then my events are for you. And you can brag to your mates that you did this hard as nails mountain event when, in fact, if you did the same distance on the flat it would be a lot more painful because you'd actually be running a lot more of it.” In Terry’s defence, when it comes to Northburn, it wasn’t actually his idea. He was asked to race direct it by (New Zealand ultra runner) Lisa Tamati and Glen Christiansen. “When I first saw it, I thought it was too hard. I’ve since changed it and made it a bit harder. But it’s a nicer configuration. The flat areas are more evenly dispersed, even though you’re climbing higher and dropping lower, it’s more balanced.” After seeing how terrible people looked finishing the first event, Terry decided he needed to do the whole 100-mile course for himself, in one go. “There’s a spot in the race called the Death Hill. The first time I did it I got there and I was at a point where I thought “if death is an option, it is worth considering’.”

The last kilometre of that gruelling mission took him 40 minutes to complete and the visions he’d had of holding hands with his children as he ran across the finish were replaced by a slow, miserable walk. He’d done it to check how hard it was and he’d got his answer. Fast-forward a few years, and he’s now in training to run the Northburn 100-mile course again (after the actual event), this time carrying a lawnmower on his back. (Yeah, you read that right.) The boy who hated himself is nothing but positive that he can crush his goals – as long as he continues to help others crush theirs too.


Fancy a proper personal challenge? Terry puts on an event or ten: JANUARY Ultra Easy 100km MARCH Northburn100 APRIL Southern Lakes Half Marathon SEPTEMBER Tarras Rogaine OCTOBER Cromwell Half Marathon NOVEMBER Nevis Valley Gutbuster - Gaston to Bannockburn Check the Highland Events Facebook page for regular updates.



t r a ’ D t c e j b O s m a e r D f o e d a Casc









unny how some things strike a chord. I first saw a picture of Cascade Saddle many years ago, in an old copy of Wilderness Magazine lying under a bunk in a hut that my possumtrapper father and I were staying in. Stark, terrifying, more than a dozen people have lost their lives on Cascade Saddle and many tales of near-fatal encounters abound. In that shameful voyeuristic tendency unique to humans, the image rolled around in my mind like a boiled sweet over the years. There are a few routes to the Saddle and I chose a three-day fastpack over the 70-kilometre Rees-Dart. Located in Mount Aspiring National Park, Otago, this horseshoe route climbs up the Rees Valley east of Glenorchy and descends the Dart Valley, circumnavigating Mount Earnslaw. It is wild, isolated and beautifully rugged; the area is prone to flooding and avalanches, and at its apex, an out-and-back day trip (20km) to the Dart Glacier is on offer… with, of course, a sallie to the edge of sensibility: Cascade Saddle.

I love fastpacking: it is the perfect compromise for a route that stubbornly refuses to be crammed into a 24-hour period, and the wannabe-fastpacker must balance safety against speed in a deliciously calculated risk.


The transport shuttle had barely slowed to a halt before I was out and tearing down the gravel access road. The Rees Valley is beautiful in that classic Otago way: a wide, tussocked river basin flanked by sheer mountains and threaded through with a broad, clear river… but I don’t want beauty. I want drama, excitement – savage, dangerous territory – and topping the Rees Saddle (1471m) late afternoon, I am rewarded. Abruptly the pallet changes from blue and fawny brown to stark black-and-white, and it is striking. The antithesis to the beautiful-butbenign Rees Valley, the gorge I peer into is a steep rocky gash: Snowy Creek is a rushing, angry green torrent that hammers against sheer black rock walls,


and my heartbeat ratchets up a notch. This is flash-flood territory: the Snowy Creek bridge is removed each winter and returned when the snow clears. Sidling high above the chasm on a considerable gradient, I set off gingerly towards the confluence of the Snowy and Dart, suspended beneath the menacing looking Whitbourn Glacier.After a big 29km day, the Dart Hut is packed and I’m glad I was uncharacteristically organised and booked a bed. I squat on the deck to heat dinner in peace, unaware I am about to meet two of the stupidest people on the planet. *Fastpack Top Tip No.1: Flameless heater packs are a good alternative to carrying a stove. Two strapping Italian men in expensive alpine gear burst from the kitchen: wildeyed, they clutch (incongruously) a slab of fresh salmon and a packet of Maggi Instant Chicken Noodle Soup, which they fall upon with gusto. I am curious… but less so at 2am when they rise and noisily clatter about the hut, preparing



to depart. At breakfast, a harrowing (yet entertaining) story of underpreparedness is shared. Fabio and Mario (not their real names) held a picnic in the carpark before starting their tramp up the Rees Valley, where they consumed the bulk of their food before making notoriously slow progress to the first hut. By Day Two their rations had dwindled to a bladder of wine and a large bag of nuts: begging at the hut for food turned up the salmon and instant soup. The Big Problem: Fabio and Mario had arranged to be picked up the following day: their return flights to Italy depended on them making that connection. Leaving at 2am, the illprepared pair had 40km to travel in 16 hours…TO BE CONTINUED. *Fastpack Top Tip No.2: Wash the grottiest areas of garments and lay to dry under your sleeping bag.


Grey, grey and more grey. Spinning along the northeast bank of the Dart next morning, everything is grey: from the

gun-metal sharp, flinty schist I run over, to the salt-and-pepper flecked glaciers that hang over the west bank, separated by the soft, muted Dart River. Even the sky is a nondescript grey that says ‘MEH. I couldn’t care less what your plans are for today’. Delight. I run into an Alpine Kea nursery and cannot help myself: I stop and play for a while with these nosy, noisy, rambunctious birds. Soon the trail begins to climb and the monstrous Dart Glacier hove’s into view. A second colour enters my consciousness – high above an impossibly sharp rock garden lying directly opposite the Dart Glacier, an ocean of fawny tussock signals the approach to Cascade Saddle. The climb is hard. I have just hit the tussock when I hear a tremendous roar, like an aeroplane passing directly overhead. Instinctively I glance up in time to see an avalanche cascade down the Glacier. The violence is mesmerising and I shudder, even though I am on the opposite bank of the river and it is miles away. Suddenly, I am standing at the edge of an abyss and my stomach drops and rolls

away as I stare down into the Matukituki Valley. I am literally standing on a great divide: behind me lies a dull world of cold stone and ice. That world disappears beneath my feet, dropping down, down – impossibly far down, into a verdant green valley. A door to Narnia! A tiny sliver of blue winds like a thread across a river plateau of bright green, twinkling in the sun. Darker green, a forest of pines climbs up out of the valley… yet the entire visage is framed by sheer flutes of angry black rock that drop vertiginously to the valley floor. Is this heaven? Or is it hell? Dizzy, I sit down on the slick snowgrass. No wonder people die here. *Fastpack Top Tip No.3: Wear your emergency thermals as hut clothing with light sandals.


Starting down the Dart Valley the following morning, I fret that the drama is over – but am soon to be proved happily wrong. Storms in early 2014 unleashed a devastating landslide on the Dart Valley, forcing the closure of the


Craigieburn, South Island, NZ 57km / 24km / 10km

VALLEY ULTRA 21 Nov 2020





original trail and significant re-routing effort. The website recommended ‘a high level of backcountry experience’ to attempt the reconstructed section, and estimates to complete appeared wildly extravagant. Indeed the day started humbly enough, a gentle descent through lovely ancient beech forest alternating with wide sections of river trail basking in the warm sunshine. Smooth running was occasionally interrupted by chaotic rock and timber-strewn debris avalanches that completely obliterated the trail and peaked my curiosity – then order would abruptly restore. I had a nagging sense that big shit had gone down here. Daley’s Flat Hut made for a perfect lunch stop, and a chance to interrogate Ranger Steve about the fate of the Italian Dynamic Duo. Rangers fall into two categories: those who have suffered an epiphany and are dying to share it with the world (they know the Latin name of every piece of flora and fauna in the region and - delightfully - you can’t shut them up), and those who live as far away from civilisation as possible for a reason. It wasn’t difficult to guess which category Taciturn Steve fell into. “Hey!” I said cheerfully. “Have you had a couple of Italians go through here in an awful hurry?”. Steve scratched his beard thoughtfully. “Yep”. “D’ya reckon they were gonna make their connection?” I asked. More beard-scratching. “Nope”. It wasn’t hard to find a break in the conversation and as I headed to the longdrop to pee with the promised comfort of a toilet seat, my lip curled at piles of toilet paper discarded along the path. “Bastards!” I fumed. “Can’t even be bothered walking to the loo, they just squat in the bush!” 23 seconds later I discovered why. Dear God – never in my almost half-decade of living outdoors have I been attacked by such a ruthless, blood-thirsty swarm of bitie-guys. It was like something out of Harry Potter. I almost took the door off its hinges launching myself down the track, simultaneously swatting at my groin, yanking up my running skirt

and attempting to don my pack. Twenty minutes later I was still tearing through the forest with one hand stuck down my skirt furiously scratching at my groin, praying no one would be coming the other way. Don’t get me wrong: I do love running more than most, and a number of accusations have been levelled at that particular obsession – but until that day ‘masturbates while running’ hadn’t been one of them.


• Carry calorie-dense foods: avocado, coconut oil,

*Fastpack Top Tip No.4: Omit bugspray/sunscreen/chafing cream at your peril!

nuts, cheese, salami, salty crackers

• Carry fresh food on Day One: sandwiches/rolls, fresh fruit, frozen steak/mince for dinner (it will thaw in the day) • For shorter hikes, trade the weight of a stove/ fuel for flameless heater packs – or experiment with cold-rehydrating food.

Fortuitously, discomfort in the ‘nether regions’ settled to a tolerable level just as I reached the newly reconstructed section. Rugged, rooty, loamy, barely formed (but well-signposted)… it was dirty single-track at its very best, and I was super-happy to throw everything at it. A high point coincided with a break in the trees and I stared across the valley, arrested by the sight of a MONSTER slip 1km wide and at least 4km high. This was nature at its best (or worst?): chaos and construction – the debris fan had blocked the entire Dart River, flooding Dredge Flat to create a brand-new lake. Down at water level, the flat blue of ‘Lake Creepy’ contrasted with deadened, drowned trees in a scene reminiscent of an American B-rate horror movie. My urge for dramatics was sated. All that remained was a tidy 4km river valley run-out, up and over Chinaman’s Bluff and down to the carpark to await transport to Queenstown with its promise of beer and good food.


• Wash the grotty areas of garments to be reworn: dry overnight under sleeping bag

• Wear emergency thermals and light sandals as hut clothing – combine with a lightweight sleeping bag and down jacket • ALWAYS take spare dry socks • Take a portable clothesline – the hut ones may be overloaded • For long trips that pass through habitation, send a change of clothes in advance/post worn clothing home.

3. PACK:

• Practice with an accurately weighted pack – walk until settling into an altered stride. Take physio tape for pack-rub • Make up a small ‘toolkit’ with shoelaces, duct tape, cable ties, blade, etc. • Dry-bag or use a pack liner/cover. Package medication, toiletries in plastic zip-lock bags: reuse to pack rubbish out.

But what became of Fabio and Mario?


Reaching the hut car park between midnight and 2am – some 10 hours after their transport – the pair huddled in the shelter for a miserable few hours before hitching to Queenstown to lay down a great deal of money on food and flight ticket upgrades. A classic example of ‘all the gear, no idea’.

• Take early action on niggles – blisters, pack-rub, cold, dehydration, sun/heat exposure, sprains and strains • Check water availability in advance: carry water purification tablets • Complete a first-aid course • Have a contingency plan in case of emergency • Don’t rely on hut space – book, or carry a bivvy • Don’t rely on a phone – learn to navigate by map/compass; carry SPOT tracker or PLB (search for Rees Dart Track)

• Take treats. ALWAYS. 73



Rum Wadi Diaries A MAD MISSION

A triple-layer of grief, social media meanderings and an unexpected prize win delivers New Zealander, Hannah Johnston, to the melting heart of the Wadi Rum Desert, in the Middle East, for her first, exotic crack at becoming an ultra runner. WORDS: HANNAH JOHNSTON / WWW.MAKEITDIRT.COM IMAGES: BENEDICT TUFNELL






t's dusk in the desert and I'm captivated by the first stars appearing as the soft evening light dims. With the bustle of the Bedouin-style camp behind me, mesa silhouettes on the horizon, and red sand under my feet, it strikes me how painfully far away I am from my comfort zone of homely paradise in New Zealand. The following morning I'm set to embark on a five-day, 250-kilometre meander through the stomping ground of Lawrence of Arabia, the Wadi Rum desert. The Wadi Rum is tucked away in the far south of Jordan, on the fringe of the Arabian desert. It will be my first ultra marathon – what a way to pop the ultra marathon cherry. After several years of racing in various multisport events, this time I’m not out to prove anything, to myself or anyone else. I have no expectations around results, I'm not running away from my problems, and yet I'm not here just for the experience either. I actually won the opportunity to participate in this adventure. Let’s rewind. Rewind to the wee, small hours one sleepless night seven months prior. My world had been upturned by the death of both my father and a close male friend, within a matter of weeks. This was added to, just a few months later, with the passing of my grandfather. The loss of the solid masculine guidance in my life was a huge upheaval. A long season of sleepless nights ensued as I struggled with the grief triple-whammy. Being a self-proclaimed 'well-being woke woman', I diligently tried all the healthy go-to-sleep measures – chamomile tea, no screen time after dinner, early to bed, gentle yoga, reading, breathing exercises, and meditation. If none of that proved to be effective, I resorted to the tried and true distraction for my monkey brain — yep you guessed it — mindless scrolling on social media. This night in particular, I was only a few minutes deep on Facebook when I saw this: “Win an entry to a 5-day ultra



marathon in Jordan — Click Here”. Here's where I need to pause and make something abundantly clear. At this point in time I was as far from wanting to run an insanely long way as I could possibly get. Grief had taken a mammoth toll on my body. It was still in shock — my legs were weak, and my muscles were chronically low on energy. It was as though all my gusto had blown away into the nevernever. During that time, even a short walk left me utterly exhausted and ready for a nap. Needless to say, the idea of an ultra marathon didn't spark any enthusiasm for me. But, hosted in Jordan, that was like teenage-boy-Lynx to a flame. The concept of an adventure in Jordan was something my late friend, Caleb, and I had eagerly and excitedly discussed once upon a time. The fervour with which new adventure concepts are hatched is something I'm sure almost all trail runners can relate to. More than just another adventure buddy, Caleb was a best friend. During the period where I struggled most with mental illness he was the only person I truly trusted. He had a generous heart, an unquenchable thirst for adventure, a wicked sense of humour, and in the words of his partner "he was also ridiculously spunky – and he knew it." Caleb was killed in a tragic recreational accident last October. His sudden exit from this life left myself, and many others, devastated and heartbroken. The fact he died doing what he loved, in a place he loved, brought little comfort in the weeks following his death. Yet I could still hear him saying, "Yea girl, get out there and chase new adventures!" So here I was. Staring at a screen in the middle of the night and, for the first time in months, I felt a genuine fizz of excitement. Buoyed by the thought that Caleb would say a big “hell yea”, I put my entry in. UltraX, the organisers of the event and competition, asked why you think you should win. I shared my story about Caleb, our Jordan dream, and concluded by saying that the chance to participate in the ultra marathon would be a tribute to his “get dressed fucker we’re going on an adventure” attitude. A month later I heard from Sam Heward, co-founder of Ultra X. I was in! Out of over 400 entries they had picked mine as the winner.







With the passing of my three wise men I had effectively put my life on hold. It had taken all of my strength simply to get out of bed each day and stay afloat. It's bewildering when your own world has shattered, but the earth itself keeps on turning. There were consecutive days I spent wondering if I would ever function properly again, or if it was worth the effort to put on a brave face when I all wanted to do was fall apart. In the months after the funerals, after the sympathy cards and messages cease, and you're back at work, it's like you're pretending life is normal. Those days are tough too. Writer, Anne Lamott, describes it beautifully as this: "You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken...It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp." Winning the entry is ultimately what flipped my energy and psyche switch to "on". The prize package included coaching from Rob Jones at Inner Fight, a gym and endurance coaching business based in Dubai. Rob crafted a training programme that had me best prepared to tackle the epic ultra challenge. After several years training for multisport I found the focus on one discipline refreshing and was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I

made progress. There were definitely days when I didn't feel like putting my running shoes on, but I knew if Caleb was there he'd be kicking my butt to go out and enjoy the fresh air! Logging time on feet is crucial for ultra marathon preparation and it was a great excuse to explore new places and trails. I did the bulk of the kilometres solo. Often I whiled away the hours listening to podcasts or simply daydreaming. But, inevitably on some long runs I was forced to peel back some layers of the grief onion. Nature has a way of holding space for us (if we let it) to stumble through the weeds of our pain. The mountains, flora, lakes and rivers are in no hurry to go anywhere and will sit with us for as long as we need. Time spent outdoors is a salve for many who experience hardship and I'm sure there are countless tears and shadows left behind on the trails. However, on other long runs I rediscovered the feeling of genuine joy. The braided river valleys, crisp mountain air, exquisite silence, and first light on the hills reminded me that there was still a little bit of magic in life. Despite the intimidating start line of Day 1 facing out towards the vast, endless desert, I felt prepared – physically, mentally, and emotionally for the week ahead. I knew Caleb would be proud that I was paying tribute to our friendship by

embarking on the Jordan challenge, and for pressing play on life again. The 44 km of Day 1 was the perfect desert initiation. The temperature cracked 40 degrees, as it did every stage that week, and we encountered short sections of soft sand, a feature that we got to know intimately as the race progressed. The first 10km sped by in a daze of awe and excitement. Way too fast, in fact. It took some real focus to reign my pace in. In a conflict that subsequently occurred each morning, it was a balance between covering kilometres quickly while the temperature was still cool (note that I use the terms "quickly" and "cool" loosely, it's all relative here) and conserving strength for the kilometres later. In the final 10km of the first day, the heat forced a slower pace, and it was at this point that the nagging voice in my head began to question what I had gotten myself into. Apart from feeling like a cooked kiwi, I crossed the finish line that day quite content. Until I took off my shoes. I was dismayed to find that 9 of my 10 toes were sporting at least one blister and I hadn't felt any of them while running. Already I'd blown a sacred law of endurance running. The blisters certainly added discomfort, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from finishing. That evening while my dinner was







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brewing, I laid out my gear and packed nutrition and hydration for the following day. Seems logical, right? For this my tent mates dubbed me "little miss organised", and it became a running joke as they saw the light and adopted the routine themselves. It's a title I chuckled at given my motivation was to gain extra time sleeping in the morning, not for the fact that I have exceptional organisational skills. Day Two, and a 49km loop from camp was our real introduction to the energystealing soft sand of the Wadi Rum desert. I made peace with the fact that due to this sand, and the heat, there was a considerable amount of walking. The hours floated by as I marched onwards, breaking the distance into 10km chunks, the distance between each checkpoint. With 73 runners there was a great friendly vibe throughout the entire event, partly due to the efforts of the UltraX crew, but also simply because ultra runners are cool people. I loved this aspect, but the relatively small field meant that many of us spent almost the entire race on our own. Thus I approached each checkpoint with eager anticipation – a welcome patch of shade, friendly grins, and the chance to speak with someone other than myself. I really settled in on Day Two, taking in the big skies and dramatic landscape, gawking at camels, and genuinely appreciating the experience. Day Three of 71km was the Big Kahuna, the one we had all been apprehensively waiting for. This was the day I became to have full faith in my mantra “my pace is the best pace”, which I'd adopted to avoid getting carried away thinking I could ‘race’. It paid off as later in the day I reeled in competitors who had literally left me in the dust that morning. The day also brought my first tears, albeit through big smiles. I was weaving along a dry riverbed and imagined that Caleb was trotting along beside me. “This is such a hoot. What a ridiculously awesome adventure you're on!” I heard him say. This spurred me on, more floating on the vision than running, and having as Caleb would want it, a fabulous time. Unfortunately, the bubble didn't last. Slogging through soft sand and the unrelenting heat eventually took the wind out of my sails. Still, I had a trick up my sleeve for a time like this. A surprise playlist my partner had made for me went on at the 50km mark to put a boogie in

my step. It was full of country rocking and sing-your-heart-out tunes, and I had that thing on repeat all the way to the finish. Many competitors battled both physically and mentally with the distances, and so it was during the 41km of Day Four that the wheels fell off for me. At roughly halfway I hit what I've termed “peak sand”. I was exhausted, on all levels, from trudging in the heat of the day. I realised that I wasn't enjoying myself, it wasn't even so-called ‘Type 2’ fun. “What advice would Dad, Caleb and Grandad offer to cheer me up?” I pondered. Normally, when they entered my thoughts during the week, I could spin it into a positive. I knew they would be absolutely chuffed to see me out there getting stuck into a new adventure. But

Caleb and Grandad there with me too, in full party mode. I'd emptied my tears the day before, so I crossed that final finish line immersed celebrating the triumph of achievement. I relished in the satisfaction of the challenges overcome, not just for that week but also in the previous 12 months. I had been on my feet for 43.5 hours, which is more time than I spend staring at my computer screen during a working week. I'd had grand intentions of nutting out a ten-year plan, or maybe even to “find myself”, during my hours in the desert. But when all you have to do is run, eat, and sleep, in a hostile environment where it rains less than three days a year, it strips back our concept of life to what is actually important. It's a reminder that life does not need to be so tricky, and it's what we do in the present moment that counts. The evening of Day Five as I lay in bed enjoying the sweet ache of satisfaction in my legs, again I gazed out at dusk in the desert and let my mind wander. It dawned on me that the thousands of steps I took through the heat and sand are a symbol of the thousands of steps I'm about to take in this life without my three wise men. It won't always be easy or straightforward, but it is possible and my soul will smile once again. What I've lost in them, I'm discovering in myself and in other new wonderful people in my life. Whether we're trudging through yet another kilometre of soft sand in the insufferable midday heat, or stumbling around in an oppressive cloud of grief, it's difficult to believe that there will ever be an end to the unrelenting pain and discomfort. It doesn't even need to be a heart breaking experience like the loss of a loved one, as humans we find darkness in other places too. The end exists, and we can get there. One step forward, then the next. While we are struggling we must also embrace what is sent to help us, and it can arrive in the most surprising packages. It might be chilled water from a friendly Bedouin local in the desert, a meaningful conversation with a fellow passenger on the plane, a smile from a stranger on the street, or, perhaps, an unexpected prize and the willingness to accept it.

"NATURE HAS A WAY OF HOLDING SPACE FOR US TO STUMBLE THROUGH THE WEEDS OF OUR PAIN" on this day, I just couldn't. I was in tears, broken, sobbing at the thought that I wouldn't get to share with them my tales and photos from this epic outing. I had expected to encounter some emotional pain out there, what really surprised me was that once I started, I completely unravelled. It was a sight to see for the crew at the next checkpoint. They were genuinely and incredibly caring, offered everything an emotional wreck could ask for, and sent me confidently on my way to complete the stage. Day Five, the 37km ‘sprint’ to the finish, served up another hearty helping of fierce heat, soft sand, and other-worldly vistas. I had felt inexplicably confident all week that I would complete the entire course, but on this day I felt it more and more keenly with each kilometre I ticked off. In the final two kilkometres, I felt again the pure bliss of running, and marvelled at the wonder of the whole adventure. I felt Dad,

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GRIT AND BARE IT “They look, ummm, pretty,” I thought to myself when first unboxing the latest PureGrit from Brooks. I was - to be honesty - slightly disappointed. My general gut feel with trail running shoes is that I want a gnarly veneer. Rough. Ready for the ‘pure grit’ that the Brooks nameplate evoked. Nothing too, well, pretty! It turns out – as often is the way with me and first impressions – I was wrong. Perhaps I’m just too used to compromising style for the sake of substance but, in this case, it seems I don’t have to. Brooks has managed to create a minimalist trail running shoe that looks shmicko, with or without mud splashed on, and, at the same time, does the job in decently gritty of circumstances (why only ‘decently’? We’ll get to that…). The PureGrit 8 is a shoe that’s not there to show off. It’s fast but not flashy. From a distance, you can’t even tell the brand, there’s no big logo

plastered alongside it and, while I wouldn’t mind some funkier colours, I like the understated grittiness of this model. Being eight editions in, and with a name like PureGrit, you’d hope they’d have their dirt munching credentials nailed. Or I did, as it was my first exposure to the PureGrit approach, which is all about keeping the runner well-connected to the ground for a more ‘pure’ running experience. I liked the sound of it. The stretch woven upper means the shoes look good enough to wear to work, which I did – no derogatory comments on my foot fashion were noted by my boss. Does it matter that I work from home and my boss is a two-year old? Nyet. But if you did have to enter a traditional office without the Wiggles on loop, you’d get away with it because these shoes don’t look like your average trail running shoe. They are officially office-pub-rave-ready.


Or Wiggles concert. Ergo, no matter where you depart from, the Pure Grit always promises door-to-trail capabilities. And once you hit said dirt and dust, any thoughts of fashion fades and the function afterburners light up. Indeed, they are very much a trail runner wolf in working/ parenting sheep’s clothing. On the run, they feel like a good hybrid should, perfect for outings that include non-technical trails and even a bit of pavement. I took them on some hardpacked forest trails and they delivered a nicely tuned balance of trail-feel, grip and comfort that was impressive. I’m not sure they’d do so well on a muddy suffer-fest in winter (which here in New Zealand, the colder, wetter months guarantee many of our favourite singletracks become fairly quagmire-ish), but they’ll be a fun shoe to wear in the drier summer months, ideally on short-to-medium outings where you


The Low Down  GREAT FOR: door to trail, rolling routes, hard packed, gravel, downhill, fast and furious outings NOT SO GREAT FOR: mud, super technical, serious mountains, ultras, people with thin heels TEST CONDITIONS: mild buffed trails, a little technical, pubs and the office TESTER: Ver Alves, NZ Editor TESTER MECHANICS: easy pacer, gentle striker, over pronator VITALS

RRP: $219.95 WEBSITE: CONDITIONS: Shoes provided for testing by Texas Peak want to up the pace somewhat. These are not your choice for ultras – while the padding courtesy of the BioMogo midsole and a minimal rockplate keeps things cruisey on runs of middling distances, going ultra would test the soles of your feet somewhat. They’ve got enough grip for the forest trails near home and they performed especially well as I ‘flew’ down the hills enjoying the new-to-me feeling of wearing trail shoes that weigh almost nothing. That’s the key difference between these and their older sibling the ‘7’: weight loss. Brooks has slimmed down what was already a decently lightweight shoe. Combine that featherweight form with a shoe that already concentrated on a ‘natural’ approach to ground feel – in that it has great feedback – and they feel very racy, primed for shorter, faster knockouts on fairly groomed to mildly rough trails. If you’re headed out for super technical runs, or into the bigger and badder mountains, I’d relegate these in favour of something beefier, the likes of Brook’s Cascadia perhaps, but they get the job done on your average weekend jog in the bush, their preferred terrain harder-packed surfaces.

I would prefer a slightly wider toe box and, for that reason, wouldn’t wear it on super long distances as I can just picture my feet threatening to burst out from inside these, Hulk-style. I’d also buy a half size to a whole size above your usual shoe size. One thing that can be problematic for some runners is the thin heel cup that, in this model, replaces the thicker one used in the PureGrit 7. Brooks probably made this decision to shed some weight off the shoe but, in doing so, somewhat compromised its performance up in the rear. The heel cup doesn’t fit quite as snuggly as other shoes and is so thin some runners might find their heel coming out of the shoe, especially if there’s a bit of mud pulling it down. Comfort remains pleasing, with the aforementioned BioMogo midsole still charged with cushioning duties, which it performs reliably across a lot of the Brooks range and has for a while now. The shoe features a new stretch woven knit upper and hydrophobic Ariaprene tongue. The upper is light and airy, draining and drying quickly. As with the previous iteration, the sole unit has an interesting mix of splay

lugs, hex lugs and an exclusive-compound sticky rubber outsole that delivers on the grip front over a multitude of surfaces, wet and dry. Unless it gets muddy. Then you’re relying on that good ground feel the shoes deliver, your reaction time and ability to ski to keep you upright. From its original incarnation, the PureGrit has been all about allowing your foot to run in a natural style, without the shoe controlling mechanics. This extends to the minimal heel-toe-drop which registers at 19mm/15mm stack heights for a small rise of only 4mm. The shoe therefore works best for runners with fairly strong foot form and function, and Achilles that are used to the low drop. If you are looking for a lightweight, minimalist hybrid shoe that can perform alright both on road and on trail, and in the office fashion stakes (pending your and your work colleagues’ subjective sensibilities) the PureGrit 8 is a good way to go. It certainly earns its place on the shoe rack for a style of running that is about freedom of movement and good pace on buffed trails.





KAPTIVATING PERFORMER La Sportiva is best known for bringing the European touch to its trail shoes, providing excellent traction, grip and ground feel for the gnarlier stuff, being born in the Italian mountainscapes. But looking back over La Sportiva’s range, they haven’t seemed to ever be heavily focused on a lightweight racing shoe. Enter stage left: the brand new Kaptivas! I actually received these to test the first week I was allowed back to running after several months of being injured. With tendon issues relating to flat feet, my podiatrist highlighted the importance of me to run in shoes that were rigid in the sole, highly supportive, and spacious enough to fit some chunky orthotics, attributes which I wasn’t convinced the Kaptivas

would fulfill given their 6mm drop and lightweight “racer” design, and given that lighter shoes usually offer a more narrow fit. But after scrutiny from the (very stringent) podiatrist, I was given the green light to run in them. Over the last few months, they’ve accompanied me on my rehab journey, from short trots on the road, to transitioning to gradually longer and more technical trails and they have performed admirably in all fields! Not being specifically designed for just one type of trail condition, the Kaptiva scored highly across the board as an excellent all-rounder. My key positive pickups were on their stability, lightweight comfort, and most importantly, a high quality and precise fit.


While the Kaptivas are well on the light side for a La Sportiva shoe (weighing in at 260g), and don’t offer a highly plush or cushy ride with a low stack height, they still pack in some solid cushioning to get you through the longer miles with enough structure for a good ground feel and a rock guard to shield feet from more aggressive surfaces. In the past, I’ve not always been overly fond of La Sportiva’s penchant for unusual colour palettes and design but I found this shoe more appealing to the eye than its counterparts (sorry LaSpo, I just have a personal thing against yellow!). The compression sock-like mesh added to the upper is a big win for me: La Sportiva’s ‘Trust-Fit’ technology builds a


The Low Down  GREAT FOR: Most types of trail, middistance runs, faster efforts NOT SO GREAT FOR: wet, greasy mud, wide feet TEST CONDITIONS: From asphalt to loose rock, sand and packed earth TESTER: Celeste Botton, Assistant Editor TESTER MECHANICS: Heel striker VITALS

RRP: $239.95 WEBSITE: CONDITIONS: Shoes provided for testing by La Sportiva

fitted compression structure with sturdier forefoot meshing (also seen in the Bushido model), stiff overlays, 4mm Ortholite molded insole and a knit upper ankle collar, the latter blending with the tongue of the shoe to keep out dirt, dust and debris. La Sportiva has also nailed the lace game. I never feel like shoe companies get the happy medium between slick laces that loosen quickly and the elastic ones that’ll occlude the blood supply to your feet! The laces used on the Kaptiva add to the glovelike fit without pinching and they stand out in terms of comfort. I was warned that the high heel lift on my orthotics could cause some friction on my heel, but I found that the heel cup had enough give in it to not pose an issue. Ergo, I’ve stayed blister-free. While not at the top of La Sportiva’s traction arsenal, the sticky FriXion XF rubber outer sole, EVA midsole and 4mm hexagonal “Impact Brake System” lugs with slanted edges offer some excellent tread on most surfaces without being too imposing to use on the road. They performed

impeccably on fire trail, sand, loose rock, but lacked a little extra bite wet sticky mud and slick grass. La Sportiva also added some tough EVA rock guards on the toes and heels to provide a little extra grip on those slippery downhills and ascents and protect your toes from stubbing on loose rocks which might reduce the uttering of profanities out on the trails! The extra rockplate in the sole gives the shoes really sturdy and stable feel, and allows for fast running in full confidence around corners and on inclines. This is reinforced by the horizontal cutouts in the sole, which allow the forefoot plenty of flexibility without compromising the rigidity and responsiveness of the midfoot. Whilst I really like this shoe, there are a few cons that I picked up on. I found them roomy enough in the forefoot and toe box, but rather tapered on the midfoot, which could be an issue for those with wider or higher volume feet. I also personally feel like the price paid for such a precise fit leaves limited room for feet to swell in the heat or

in the back end of an ultra, and wouldn’t necessarily opt for the Kaptivas for the really long stuff. In terms of durability, I’ve put about 300km on these shoes and have noticed no wear and tear on the upper at all which is commendable (and surprising, due to a rogue little toe that tends to want to escape by punching a hole out the side of my shoe uppers). However, the lugs have considerably worn down on the heel and lateral surface of the sole unit has copped some damage. One thing to consider when purchasing these is to definitely size up as they seem to run on the smaller side. Overall, I’m a huge fan of the Kaptivas (as is my podiatrist). They’re one of the best fitting shoes I’ve ever tested and they seem to be right at the sweet intersecting point of cushion, stability, traction and protection without compromising weight. They feel like your favourite fast road runner with some gnarly traction thrown on the bottom: the best of both worlds.





AMPING IT UP Confession time: the first time I ran in The North Face Ampezzos, it was on – don’t judge me – bitumen. I’d broken my cardinal rule. To be fair, it wasn’t boring bitumen – it was a short loop or two that took in the sights of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House on a stunning Emerald City day. But in my head I may as well have been running on kryptonite. And maybe my body would have felt the same if these comfy Ampezzos hadn’t kept my vibe amped. Cause here’s the second admission: these things were damn comfy on that hard stuff! Now, I was mildly annoyed, to be honest, standing in front of the shoe wall at The North Face store in Pitt

Street – where were all my funky, mountain-butt-kicking range faves? For as long as I’ve been reviewing trail running shoes (nine years, would you believe it!), I have often banged on about how The North Face trail shoes are, in the main, top-tier of performers, yet rarely do they generate the on-trail buzz or garner they credit (let alone sales) they deserve based on performance. Sure, there’s the odd low point (I’m not a huge fan of the Flight RKT Trail V1.0 after their sole fell apart…even before I had a chance to take them into knarly terrain). But in the main The North Face trail range has some pretty darn handy dirt haulers, especially if you like ultramountain outings. The Ultra Endurance


2 is a particular fave (bring it back, please). So here I am staring down the barrel of a rather uninspiring looking shoe, something that can’t be hidden by the flashy name [side note: Cortina d’Ampezzo is an Italian city surrounded by the Dolomite mountains, and it hosted the 1956 Winter Olympic Games]. They are grey, no less. I felt like I was about to put on a Volvo – as in the car – where you know it’s going to function well, but it’s all just a little dull. There’s a little ‘my old fella in the retirement home would wear these’ kind-ofvibe. Or the high school prefect. It’s so very unlike the flash of the current Flight Trinity (hello Ironman fetish),


The Low Down  GREAT FOR: door to trail, comfort, those favouring more traditional running footwear, buffed singletrack, fire roads NOT SO GREAT FOR: serious technical trails, mountains, ultras TEST CONDITIONS: buffed trail, some slightly technical, sadly…concrete. Even sadder – no serious mountain time. TESTER: Chris Ord, Editor TESTER MECHANICS: hobbled but a dicky calf, midfoot striker, should train more VITALS

RRP: $220 WEBSITE: CONDITIONS: Shoes provided for testing by True Alliance or if you happened to be overseas you might contrast it with the Ultra MT – blindingly fluro-orange, matched to a super-bitey silhouette that pushes more towards the trail taming Speedcross 5s. Alas, we’re the arse-end of the world when it comes to many shoe brands’ market allocations and getting the good stock Down Under is difficult. So, I’m not sure if the Ampezzo is just the buyers playing it safe, HQ flinging its leftovers or a bit of both. Anyway, here’s the thing, I’ve driven a Volvo before and they actually handle quite well, beyond what their yawnsville styling would give away. And here we have a correlation as the Ampezzos are out-of-box comfy. The styling is ‘safe’. The grip is demure. The whole set up is all a bit stock standard, but here’s the thing in shoes, the brasher the designers get with gimmicks and features and colourways, the less a shoe tends to work for the broadest range of users. So in terms of fit, comfort and general door-to-(buffed)-trail performance, the Ampezzos may actually hit a sweet spot,

if not the excitement spot. Once I got them on trail, they again showed lots of middle ground sensibility; stable enough, grippy enough, comfortable enough. But there was also a ‘grey’ spot – they are not overly protective, nor do they give a super sense of feedback – they are somewhere in the middle. I guess that makes for a good crossover option between road and trail, but pushing (not far) into the extremes of singletrack and you’ll find these wanting. The ExtraFoam midsole is perhaps the foundation for the comfortable, if slightly dulled ride, providing deep, squishy foam padding underfoot without any stiffness. The upper is very simple mesh with a few TPU-film overlays while the outsole offers fairly mid-range traction courtesy of a proprietary rubber compound that they call EXT. It’s good for that door-to-trail sweet spot, but it’s on the tame end of the lug-spectrum and starts to chip at the confidence of your footing once things get wet in technical

terrain. Forget about taking them mud stomping. The grip also shows some signs of early wear (always going to happen if running a trail shoe on concrete or harder surfaces), although we have only put in approx. 200km total in them. The 6mm heel-toe drop (20mm heel / 14mm) provides a good medium between low to the ground stability while still offering some squish juice in the mid to rear of the sole. On smoothdirt surfaces they feel fairly racy to a degree, it’s just when things start to amp up underfoot that the armour starts to fall away, especially when it gets into sharp, rocky terrain. Keeping in the Volvo-vein, it’s a no-frills offering, that gets the job done if without any fanfare of excitement. Yet while it may be a bit bland, a bit ‘safe’, some runners – especially those just coming to the dirty fold – might like that zone. Safe means reliable. And sometimes reliability is a good thing. Just look at the Volvo owner smiling smugly in the corner (they do that).



Runners shrink against the sheer majest y of Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, in the 136km Ultra Fiord / w w IMAGE: Luis Espinoza












Stob BĂ n (999m) makes a mean looking backdrop during the Ring Of Steall Sk yrace, Scotl and / w w ylinescotl yrace IMAGE: Johny Cook / Sk yline Scotl and

Knackered runners backdropped by Aonach Eagach, the ridge just completed during the Glencoe Sk yline, Scotl and / w w ylinescotl yline/ IMAGE: Johny Cook / Sk yline Scotl and



Ascending a brutal rock section working towards the summit of Ben Nevis during the Ben Nevis Ultra, Scotl and / w w ylinescotl / IMAGE: Johny Cook / Sk yline Scotl and



View over the L akes District, Engl and, on Tour de Trails’ Coast to Coast, Pub to Pub trail run tour / w w IMAGE: Chris Ord @one _ life _ wild



Testing the quads on his way to second pl ace in this year’s Great Southern Endurance Run: Burt Kennedy. IMAGE: Ian Fellowes / The Eventurers

Rob Sut ton takes the highline that is Haystacks, overlooking But termere, L akes Distric, Engl and, on Tour de Trails’ Coast to Coast, Pub to Pub trail run tour / w w IMAGE: Chris Ord @one _ life _ wild


TRAIL PORN High-mountain passes, gl acier crossings and the fjordl and views of Ultra Fiord (21km / 136km), held within the Torres del Paine National Park, Chile in April 2020. w w IMAGE: Guillermo Salgado

With distances varying from 14km to 80km, Ultra Paine explores one of the most pristine environments on the pl anet at the southern tip of Patagonia. The 7 th edition will be held in September 2020. w w IMAGE: Luis Espinoza



Gl acial ice-scapes form an impressive backdrop on course at Ultra Fiord, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. w w IMAGE: Guillermo Salgado




CRADLE ULTRA PIONEER THE CRADLE MOUNTAIN RUN KICKED OFF IN 1981. It came about at Nick Goldie’s place looking at a picture of Cradle Mountain on the wall. “I heard that some people walked through in a day. I reckon we could run through,” he said. I wasn’t so sure. But I was a better runner than Nick, so I said, “Oh, yes, course we can.”

THE TRACK ITSELF HAS IMPROVED BUT THE SPEED WON’T. It’s improved particularly for wet running, not so much for dry running. My time of 10 hours 20 minutes was pretty good when you think of it. THE KEY TO RUNNING AND FINISHING IS NIMBLE FEET. The hardest bit is the combination of distance and rough footing. The duckboard sounds like it’s easy, but often it just clips your toes all the time. The roots are the worst. When you’re going through rainforest and they’re always slightly wet, you slide very quickly off them.

AS FAR AS I KNOW AT THE TIME THERE WAS NOTHING LIKE IT IN AUSTRALIA at the time, where you’d run for 82 kilometres over very, very rough country. WE WERE EXPECTING ABOUT 18 people to front up, but in the end only nine did. I can remember every single one of them, because you can always remember the first more than any other. I recall starting off, I was running with Nick when he made a fantastic face plant right in the middle of the track. I think it rattled him a bit.

NUMBERS ARE LIMITED. I like that about the Cradle run, because in the end it’s a special run. It means that it can be a relatively personal experience for all. In 1982 (second edition) we only had five runners, but that actually proved difficult. Back then, when there were so few people who’d done it and so few people connected, it was quite hard to get enough people to start, plus others to ferry the gear round and provide relief.

I ALWAYS FEEL FOR NICK IN THOSE FIRST RUNS. He pulled out first year, realising that he hadn’t prepared well enough. I think everybody else finished. In the second year I couldn’t run so I was acting as a relief party at Pelion. We needed somebody to pick up the dead bodies. I came down to the finish, and Nick had pulled again. He was the most despondent person I’ve seen. It’s one of those things: the guy who was the main driver never actually finished it.

I REMEMBER THE FIRST WOMAN TO EVER RUN: JEANETTE COLLIN. I think she lined up in ‘85. A male runner said, “We got to get away from that woman. She’ll slow us down.” Of course, she finished and he didn’t. I rather enjoyed that. THE MOST MEMORABLE PERFORMANCE I saw was Andy Kromar. He is brilliant. It is amazing to think that legend still holds the course record: 7 hours 25 minutes, run back in 1996. That’s quite a long time ago.

FOR A LONG TIME IT HELD THE REPUTATION OF THE TOUGHEST SINGLE DAY RUN. Of course, you can make any run tougher. You just have to find some impossible place to run. This is a reasonable run in the sense that there’s a track, and there’s a clear beginning and a clear end.

PEOPLE WHO ARE HAVING A GO AT THE RECORD tend to taper off towards the end and can’t actually hold on. It’s a psychological thing. They can say, “I’m on the


record pace. I’ll get the record.” But can they continue the pace? The record books say no. Perhaps Andy’s was just a phenomenal run. CRADLE MOUNTAIN’S SPECIAL TO ME, because I’ve been involved for so long. In fact I was almost the sole organizer for almost all runs until 1995. That’s 14 years. ORIGINALLY THE EVENT WAS NEVER INSURED. We are now. Sometimes I’d have nightmares about taking the runners up to some obscure place which I’d never been before to start them off the run at the wrong time. It was quite a frightening thought. I don’t get those nightmares anymore, thank God. I’M NOT SURE WHETHER WE EVER MADE ANY MONEY OUT OF IT OR NOT. I don’t know. I remember Craig Malot sending me extra money. He said, “I’m sure you couldn’t have made any money out of that Richard. Here’s another $50.” That was nice. I’ve no idea whether it was justified or not. I’M NOT SURE WHETHER I CAN GIVE ANY WISE WORDS. I like trail running. On the other hand I’m also a track runner. I was a marathon runner of little note. I had the Tasmania steeplechase record for a short time in the 70s. My best time for the marathon was about 2:30. I was also a cross country runner. I knew how to go over hurdles, and obviously go over hurdles and fences. Rough country didn’t worry me very much. A pioneer event in Australian trail running history, the Cradle Mountain Ultra will celebrate its 40th anniversary in February 2020.




R unnin g d o e s n ’t s u c k b u t i t i s h ar d . E a c h gl o r i o u s l o n g r un in t h e m o un t ain s i s t h e r e s ul t o f c o un t l e s s h o ur s o f t r ainin g ; e ar l y m o r nin g s , l a t e ni gh t s , t ir e d l e g s an d n o e x c u s e s . T h e D ur o/ D y n a m ak e s e v e r y r a c e o r r un e a s i e r w i t h b o un c e -f r e e s t ab ili t y an d o p t i o n s t h a t a c c o m m o d a t e e v e r y t hin g f r o m a f t e r- w o r k j a un t s t o l o n g d a y s in t h e m o un t ain s . S o k e e p t r ainin g . T h a t ’s h o w t h e G o o d D a y s ar e M a d e .