Mountains or Valleys?

Mountains or Valleys? I have a choice to make.


A holiday to NZ, a chat with a friend, and suddenly I find myself agreeing to do the 2012 Tararua Mountain Run. 35km over the Southern Crossing of the Tararuas. 2,250m up, and then 2,475m down. It has the reputation of being NZ’s toughest mountain race. To quote the website: “…only the very fit or insane contemplate running all of it.”

They don’t let first-timers run the race on their own: due to the difficulty of the terrain and the potentially deadly weather conditions, first-timers have to run the race with a partner. And one of the pair must have walked or run the course before!

Shaun and I both fit the bill here. We tramped the Southern Crossing in 2002, together with my wife. It was my third attempt after the first two were thwarted by extreme weather; the weather for this one wasn’t much better, with rain and very high winds. But Shaun is an experienced navigator and we were determined to knock it off. I recall fighting along a misty ridge-line, Debbie actually blown off her feet on a couple of occasions, all captured on Shaun’s ever-present camera.

It was an EPIC trip. Two nights over the tops in foul weather. A real achievement!

The only dampener was rounding a corner in our full wet-weather combat gear, woolley hats, gloves and burgeoning packs, to find a guy running towards us in a pair of shorts, long sleeve top, and a tiny backpack. It went something like: “Pretty nasty eh? Just doing a training run over the top for a race they have up here. Can’t stop to chat. Better keep moving.” What a mad bastard! The heroic picture I’d built-up of myself instantly crumbled.

going up-er.pngGoing up the Tararuas…


The race date is Mar 2012. Eight months away. ONLY(!) eight months away! I am not ready. I do not run hills. The average finish time is around 8 hours – my longest ever run is 3h 47mins. So I need to build hill strength AND endurance. But what about the terrain? The track gets gnarly; I’m a pretty weedy guy with a recent history of injuries. Will I snap a twig? I need to research shoes and ankle support.

If I were to plan this logically, I’d spend one year continuing to work on my speed – looking to get that 17:xx 5km time and a sub 1:25 half-marathon. The second year I’d start to build the volume, look to pickup a few 20km hill runs but focus on the marathon distance. Towards the end of the 2nd year I’d do my first marathon and aim for a sub 3-hr. The 3rd year would, no doubt, be a couple more marathons, perhaps further attempts at sub-3 or even loftier goals; a few more hill races would continue to build strength. By the 4th year I’d be casting around for something different, something like the Tararua Mountain Run.

I appear to be jumping three years ahead of myself! Injury thoughts flicker. Perhaps we’ll do it at a sensible enough pace that I can treat it as a endurance-building block? Yeah right! Doing an 8hr+ mountain run as preparation for an 85 minute half-marathon? – a coach might have trouble selling that programme!

going down-er.pngGoing down. Stop when you get to the river; if you hit the sea, you’ve gone too far!

When opportunity knocks…

But, as I think about it, there really is no choice. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often, and shouldn’t be squandered. I still mourn my missed chance to do the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal 10 years ago. It was beyond my control – a hernia. At the time it didn’t seem a big deal to miss it, but now, with four wee kids, Annapurna seems a world away; I suspect that the Annapurna circuit will never happen for me now.

I’ve previosuly bleated on about how I need a goal. A REAL goal. A STRETCH goal. The sub-1:30 half marathon was obviously a soft target seeing as I hit it when injured, and I can’t attempt my sub 5 half ironman because the Gold Coast Half Ironman got cancelled. The Tararua Mountain Race is a bloody good, hard goal!

The importance of having a goal

Focus. Purpose. Self-esteem. At this point in my life, when work, kids and family could easily drown me, an exercise goal allows me to anchor myself against the flow – to keep the “me”. I know this sounds like some bullshit you might read in a self-help book, but, to be perfectly honest, it’s what I’m facing right now. At times, there is so much to do for everyone else, that I feel like I disappear!

Is it important to preserve self? Perhaps this is a new “me” evolving? Perhaps I need to adapt and try to derive pleasure from this new life?


To me, preserving self feels important – life-changingly important! A BIG goal gives me a sanctuary against the storm, somewhere I can go to draw excitement when the mundaneness of everyday life is weighing on me. It makes me a happier person, a better father, and a better person to be around.

And, as an added bonus, it’s fun! W00t! It’a a win-win!

Decision made. Mountains, it is!

mt hector-er.pngDebbie and Mike atop Mt Hector during a failed crossing attempt. It turned out my compass skills were ‘questionable’. I use a GPS now!

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