- Jez Bragg
- Welcome to my blog which I hope to develop with some interesting material on ultra running both on the trails and road including reports on races and interesting training runs, views on kit and equipment as well as anything else I find of interest. I love running for adventure, opportunity and well being. Enjoy!
Saturday, 2 February 2013
The Independent newspaper
The Telegraph newspaper - The Adventure Interview
'Advendure' - Greece
The North Face Journal - photos, video, blog, infographic
North Island video dispatch
Wilderness magazine, NZ
Marathon Talk - podcast interview
Trail Runner Magazine
Ian Corless/ Talk Ultra
iRunFar's detailed expedition round-up
Ian Corless / Talk Ultra interview
Ian Corless expedition round-up
Mud, Sweat & Tears
Wilderness magazine, NZ
Trail Runner magazine, US
Te Araroa - official website, NZ
The North Face website - expedition photo collection by Damiano Levati
Peignee Verticale, France
Tim Taylor - NZ Kayaker - our Cook Strait Guide - Tim's write up
'Advendure' - Greece
Start: Riverton (2,988km)
Finish: Bluff (3,054km)
Distance for the day: 68km
Cumulative distance: 3,054km
Distance to Bluff: 0km
At a 1601hrs this afternoon, 53 days 9 hours and 1 minute after setting from Cape Reigna, I finally completed my long journey down the Te Araroa trail, arriving in Bluff – lands end on the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. Gathered there waiting were my crew, Mark & James, my wife Gemma, my mum and my mother-in-law, Hilary. Damiano from the Storyteller Collective was there capturing the moment on photo and video, just has he done so magnificently throughout the expedition. They sprayed me with champagne and we danced around the landmark yellow finger post like we’d just won the lottery. There were bystanders around too, probably wondering what the heck was going on, but none of us gave a hoot. It was raw emotion for me; all my heart and soul, sweat and tears, had been put into realizing this moment, and it almost happened too suddenly to take it all in. I’ve been a robotic state for most of the time since I started – in my own little bubble – and I think it’s going to take several days to snap out of it. My body is also going to want to know what the heck is going on when I don’t run tomorrow; so I think some wind down jogging/ walking is going to be important.
So how did the day unfold? Well in the usual manner really. A 5am alarm call felt a wee bit harsh as we had all been up late last night – I only got in from the trail at 9.30pm – but there was a nice buzz in the air from the thought of the finish. It was exciting to think about the day ahead, but that doesn’t make it any easier to get out the campervan door with so much cumulative fatigue in my legs, not to mention the mental tiredness. But once out, and 10 minutes or so up the road, everything started to warm up and then we were away. The sky this morning was incredible, the colors rich and colorful, before the sun eventually rose from the sea and brought the day to life. Once through Riveton, the route was straight on to the beach for 25km around a nicely curved, sandy bay, and it was a lovely spell for solitude and reflection which was exactly what I needed after many weeks of relentless and intense running. The running was far from easy with a mixture of sand and shingle, but I felt strong from thoughts of the finish and kept moving on at decent pace.
From the end of the beach it was on to the road all the way through to the outskirts of Bluff, skirting to the west of Invercargill, most of it on the shoulder of Highway 1. It wasn’t all that much fun and the tarmac was unforgiving underfoot, causing further soreness in my feet and ankles. But the soreness wasn’t really occupying my thoughts, it was more occupied with thoughts about finishing. I had music on the go to help switch off, but it seemed to bring on regular emotional streaks where I was breaking into tears. I’ve said before that this run has worn me down and exposed my inner emotions, and there were so many examples of that today.
By lunchtime at 1.15pm I had 50km under my belt, and thoughts of a mid-afternoon finish were starting to get muted. I didn’t really stop long for lunch, I just wanted to get the job done, so it was straight back on the road through to the outskirts of Bluff. So all that was left was a 7km stretch of trail around the Bluff peninsula to the Stirling Point fingerpost, the official finish to the trail. The first 3km of this section was rough running through long grass from marker post to marker post, but then I hit the millennium trail, and nicely graded gravel track leading all the way to the finish. It was a real blast. No tomorrow to save myself for, nothing to lose, no reason to hold back. But no time to really prepare myself for stopping; that’s the bit which is going to feel very strange.
We’re now sitting in the communal room of Bluff campsite, sharing photos, drinking cider and beer, and starting to reflect and share the memories. Where do you start? I’ve spent 53 days reflecting, and now I need time to reflect. Work that one out - very strange. But one thing I know I will be doing for sure is taking a week’s holiday with my wonderfully supportive wife. I feel like the luckiest man alive….
It’s hardly suffice, but just initially I want to say a massive thank you to my incredible support guys, James and Mark. They have given up nine weeks of their life to support me with this expedition and words can’t express how grateful I am to them both for what they have done. It is with great sadness that this team will split up from tomorrow – it really has been an incredible team effort – I have just been fronting it.
I hope to share some of my reflections about the expedition as a whole over the coming days. I too don’t want it to stop, so I will get a few more posts out.
And finally a big thank you to everyone who has followed my journey and provided so many supportive comments and feedback. I hope you have enjoyed it all as much as I have.
|Sunrise on the Beach (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)|
|The day is alive! On the beach.... (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)|
|Focused on the final day (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)|
|Finished! (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)|
|The team celebrating at the finish (credit: Damiano Levati/ The North Face)|
Friday, 1 February 2013
Where would the Te Araroa expedition be without our Kea camper van? Well, there would be no expedition! The van provides us with the freedom & flexibility that we need to provide Jez with a superbly comfortable haven wherever & whenever he needs it.
He will often arrive at the van after one or two nights away under canvas or in a hut, dreaming of that hot shower & a large plate of freshly cooked food. It revives him & prepares him for the next arduous Te Araroa trail section. What we have really appreciated is the comfort & reliability of the van - in fact, if we could, we would like to take it home with us!
So, thank you Kea Campers, for providing us with the means to carry out this expedition - we couldn't be doing it without you!
|Our amazing Kea Camper|
Start: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) (2,924km)
Finish: Riverton (2,988km)
Distance for the day: 64km
Cumulative distance: 2,988km
Distance to Bluff: 66km
I guess in golfing or football terms, today was the chip on to the green, or the cross into the box. I completed the tough Longwood Forest section, hit the coast, and started the final part of my journey east/ south east towards Bluff. In doing so I have set myself up for a potential finish tomorrow – yippee!
We started the day just inside Longwood Forest, a dense and mature forest of mainly beech, and it wasn’t until 5pm this afternoon that I finally got out. It did make me feel rather trapped, but I coped reasonably well.
The forest runs north to south in a long thin strip, covering a rolling set of hills and (of course) the Te Araroa route follows the ridge and the high ground. The tops of the hills are mostly exposed which is great for the views, but not so great for moving at any kind of decent pace because they’re covered in tussocks and spiky cactus type plants. My ankles were sore all day, and the unevenness of the ground was one of the greatest challenges.
|Rough terrain on the exposed tops|
I guess I set about the forest task in a rather business-like fashion, focusing on getting the job done, or perhaps I’m just turning into a running robot – that was another thought I had out on the trail! But I was pretty chilled out and moved at a brisk, but not ground braking, pace to make the crossing.
The guys had very helpfully recced accessed points yesterday, so we had a couple of meeting points for food and drink re-supply planned, to help break up the 50km section. However the sections were still long, and it was another warm one, so I probably wasn’t eating and drinking as much as I should have been. The first in the series of peaks on the route was Bald Hill, and I was up there for about 8am, rewarded with some wonderful views of the South Island’s south coast and my first glimpse of the end point, Bluff. When I caught that view I paused and the emotions started coming, so I quickly started running again!
|View from Bald Hill towards Bluff.|
The last section of Longwood was both bizarre and amazing. Constructed by the Chinese gold miners in the late 19th Century, the perfectly benched track follows a precise contour, and in doing so snakes in and out of all spurs, river cut outs and re-entrants in a quite incredible fashion. Talk about a convoluted way to get from A to B, however I’m sure they had their reasons for constructing it in that manner. Now somewhat dilapidated and overgrown, it offers a great walking route and is a fascinating part of Te Araroa.
I eventually popped out at the Round Hill car park around 5pm, with the crossing having taken 11 hours – a long day already. But to set up a potential finish tomorrow I really wanted to get close to 65km as a total, so I quickly decided to run the 18km leg around Colac Bay and over the headland to Riverton, to achieve that total. After a few glitches navigating the final section I arrived at the overnight stop about 9.30pm, some 15.5 hours after I set off this morning. Another big day with some seriously tough terrain – that’s the ‘hard tramping for you…..
|Arriving at the south coast|
I’m not going to lie, I was seriously tempted to run all through the night in an attempt to finish the trail at the earliest opportunity, but I came to the conclusion that my swollen feet and ankles are just not up to that, and they need a proper rest before finishing the job tomorrow. So it will be up at 5am for a 6am start with 66km to go until I reach Bluff.
Tomorrow is going to be one seriously special - and I suspect emotional – day. I can’t wait.
Thursday, 31 January 2013
Start: Mavora Lakes Road (2,797km)
Finish: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) (2,924km)
Distance for the 2 days: 127km
Cumulative distance: 2,924km
Distance to Bluff: 130km
This trail is making me work for my kilometers right to the last, as it has done all the way. It would be a real mistake to let my guard down at this stage and think that the final few hundred kilometers would be a run in.
My run down the Mararoa River Track yesterday morning is a good example. Gem joined me and we set off bright and breezy at 6am, just catching first light and then a sky coming to life with simply amazing shades of red and purple. I’ve learnt already from my time on the trail that riverside trails usually spell trouble, and so this track proved to be a complete nightmare. It was marked by orange topped poles which were difficult to spot due to the height of the undergrowth. The river bank rose and fell regularly and the terrain varied from bog to rutted pasture to thistles to long grass, and my patience wore think very quickly, particularly from the amount of barbed wire fences to be negotiated. It was clear that very few through hikers use the track, instead opting to follow the gravel road running parallel around a kilometer to the side. If I had not been so focused on following the trail to the tee in order to set a completely legitimate record, then I would have been on the road too! The first 18kms took nearly 4 hours – thank goodness for the early start. The remainder of the river track wasn’t quite so bad, and by lunchtime I had made it to Princhester hut, the trailhead for a penultimate ‘hard tramping’ section across the rugged Takitimu Mountains.
James fed me like a king to set me off all charged up, but I left the team feeling a little emotional, probably just from the knowledge of what was up ahead, hard tramping usually meaning super rough terrain, and that was exactly what came. The guide book described new, unformed trails through rolling forests and tussock ridden open ground. The DoC trailhead signage didn’t look too promising either describing the 40km section I was tackling as taking 30 hours, or over 3 days. I was aiming for well under 24hours including and overnight stop from a 2pm start. I made good progress to start with, covering the first 17km to Aparima Hut in 4.5hours. From there a new 13km untracked but well signed forest section followed which the sign said would take 8 hours. I certainly wanted to be into the next hut before midnight so no time to lose.
I set off briskly, hoping to get as much distance under my belt as possible before dark. It was painfully slow going, no chance of anything more than a fast hike, and it required real concentration to pick the orange waymark arrows fixed to the trees, particularly with no ground trail line to follow. However it was a lovely evening to be out moving through the woods under the beam of a head torch, and thankfully it was mild too. I decided to call it a day at the next hut, Lower Wairaki, arriving about 11.30pm. I had been on the go for 17.5hours, covering a huge amount of knarly terrain including a health 30km into the section, so it would be a well deserved, albeit short, rest. I was running the section on a daypack only, so my kit for the overnight stay in the hut was rather limited, but I managed to cobble together a set up of a warm baselayer, my running shorts, Compressport leg and calf guards, some lightweight waterproofs and a foil emergency survival bag. With a bunk and matress in the hut, it was perfectly adequate. I even had some leftover cheese and ham sandwiches from the day to chobble on before bed!
I slept fairly soundly in short bursts, occasionally waking from the moisture build up in the foil bag – not the most breathable sleeping bag! So I switched in and out of it whenever it became uncomfortable, and I just about kept warm enough to stay comfortable. I set the alarm for 5.40am and was on the trail for 6.00am. I had a final 16km section - with a stiff climb to a summit of 1,000m+ - ahead before the meeting point with the guys at Rock Hut. That was my proper breakfast stop, and an approach which always focuses the (my) mind! The heat was building early, and I didn’t really want to stop to refill the my hydration sack (and treat the water) so again all the focus was on getting the to the meeting point as quickly as possible. They had camped there overnight and it was certainly comforting to see them and be ‘out’ of the section, and the reward of a hot (dehydrated) breakfast and cereal made the effort well worthwhile. The rest of today has involved a mixture of tracks and trail types in a much more gentle, rolling, setting, albeit with plenty of knarly Te Araroa sections thrown in. We’re seemingly now out of the alpine terrain and the hills are gradually mellowing down towards the south coast. Today, from the summit on the Takitimu Track, I caught my first glimpse of the south coast ocean. That view certainly helped draw me along over the course of the day…. To the west we have far reaching views to the mountainous Fjord land but I’m quite relieved to be skirting that lot.
So with just 130km to go, I have one final test ahead of me – the Longwood Forest. It’s more ‘hard tramping’ so undoubtedly final test of mental strength, particularly as I will be in the forest for the most part of the day (50km), and Te Araroa has definitely given me forest fever. The twisting trails, the tree roots, the boggy bits, the stream crossings, the spiky plants, the scrapes and scratches from the sharp dead branches – it all adds up to mental torment in the forests. Anyway, that’s tomorrow to look forward to! The good news is that when I pop out the other side, I will be on the south coast, and then it’s a flat-ish coastal traverse to Bluff. Nearly there now….
|Mararoa River Track|
|Mararoa River Track (a nice bit)|
|Tweeting or sorting my SPOT out|
|On the Maramoa River Track with Gem|
|At the top of Twinlaw|
|Breakfast after Takitimu|