The drive into Rotorua was hard. Seeing the forest, smelling the Sulfur.
Remembering the pre-race nerves and the post race excitement and relief of last year, it all came flooding back as tears down my cheeks. The disappointment was just so raw. But my husband was so excited to run this race and I was trying so hard not to spoil the run or the holiday with my self induced disability. I sucked it in and sucked it up.
The Tarawera Ultramarathon race week includes five days of activities. Five days.
Pre-injury I had booked in the Race directors BBQ, but I couldn’t bring myself to go. Lucky hubby didn’t care.
Going into a running store on crutches is hard. Everyone looks at you, I mean really looks at you, like you are naked or something. I’ve been on crutches for almost 2 weeks and I’ve become accustomed to answering certain questions. You see people think they can just ask you what happened and when you say “stress fractures in my pelvis” or “cracked hip”, there are always follow up questions which they tap on their unsolicited advice too “oh running is bad for you”, “maybe you need more calcium”, “drink more milk”.
It really is amazing that I haven’t been charged with assault.
Mind you I have recently enjoyed throwing in a little wink when I say pelvic stress fractures just to get a reaction from a well meaning old person. I know I know I’m a terrible person but they asked a stranger about their medical information, they should expect a little sex injury joke! They are lucky I haven’t come up with a more inappropriate response.
Sorry back to the shoe store, “I ran a half marathon with stress fractures” the attendant tells me, all bubbly and overly enthusiastic, so much so that I wanted to swat her with my crutches. I tried hard not roll my eyes or judge and hobbled out of the store. For the first time ever no one tried to sell me anything.
Each year the Tarawera Ultra team hook up with the Rotorua Orienteering Club for a rogaine. Last year it was an epic event outside the race hotel in support of the local SPCA with each team having a canine member either from home or from the local pound/rescue centre. This year it was away from the hotel in the Redwoods with more orienteers than runners. The Redwoods is one of my favourite places in the world so I was keen to go when hubby said he wanted to run.
I hobbled to the briefing area on my crutches and loitered around the outside of the group and leant against a tree. An older lady in running gear broke away front the main group and walked up to me, Looks me up and down and says “would you normally do something like this?”
Way to make an injured runner feel like they have lost all their conditioning in two weeks. Am I not a runner anymore? Am I fat? Where did my runners legs go?
I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it, but the knives she stabbed into my chest went in so deep they poked out the other side.
So I took my non runnings legs and hobbled into the redwoods. Alone, in the forest, my crutches cushioned in the pine leaves. This is why I love running I thought. The smell, the peace, the quiet, the trees. It’s not just about the “tribe” as I had previously thought when pondering my running “why”.
On to the race briefing.
Thank god there is humanity. This is the race I love, I thought. I got a few sympathetic looks but no one stared. Everyone is freaks here. Random lovely people asked in a non judgmental, encouraging way and offered support for my road back to Tarawera. This is my tribe. I didn’t cry but fuck I wanted to. It’s just not my year, but I love this race. The vibe was different to last year but I still loved it. The sadness and disappointment sat in my throat all night. Everyone was just so excited and I was excited for them.
More tears. “Oh your not running”, thanks captain obvious! “are you just using those as an excuse?” Seriously do you want me to break your leg with my stick?
Anger, frustration, grief.
Sympathetic looks, deregistration. The well meaning volunteer insisting I take the “miler finishers shirt” as I withdrew my name from the list. Not wanting to draw anymore attention to myself, I took the shirt and stuffed it into my bag. MACFARLANE- DNS.
There were So many people in such a small space. It was like the shoe store only magnified by 1000. The only person who tried to sell me something was the lady selling muscle rub.
I wanted to scream “I trained for this”, “I’m a runner”. But I hadn’t ran for 14 days.
I felt like the person no one wanted to see or acknowledge. Invisible. I was a breathing and annoyingly chatty symbol of what could happen to every single person in that room, overtraining and injury. This is what it must feel like to be someone living rough in an affluent suburb, no one wanting to see you or acknowledge that your fate could easily happen to them. I felt angry, like I’d been kicked out of the tribe.
The race organisers don’t care, no refund or discount for next year or anything like that. It’s not that big of a race, you couldn’t miss the girl on crutches in the front row at the briefing, at every aid station or sitting for 4 hrs in the rain at the finish line. A hello would have been nice, maybe a “that sucks, hopefully we’ll see you next year”.
“Oh shit” he said when the alarm went off at 2:30am.
The race started at 4am in the Government gardens. It was raining. It had been raining for two days. It wasn’t going to be pretty out there. You could feel the excitement and nerves in the air. Less impressive than the Redwoods start of the 102k in 2017, the gardens were lit up with purple lights and surrounded with construction fencing. The traditional hukka started the race and without any bang or fuss, a simple “go” they went.
I went back to the car and had another cry.
Back at the hotel I cried myself back to sleep and set an alarm to be ready for crew duties once I could reach the aid stations.
Once I got out on the course and saw the runners, I suddenly wasn’t so sad. The conditions were hideous. It was laughable. Mud for 50+ km. Mud so bad you couldn’t walk in it never mind run. Torrential tropical ran from a nearby cyclone and water just running down the hills like waterfalls. The defeat on the runners faces sealed the deal. I’m kinda glad I’m not running this!
With each aid station I attended and every runner I saw, this became even more evident. This run sucked and somehow the universe had got me out of it. I’m all for silver linings but seriously thank you universe (FYI: next time, a head cold rather than stress fractures would be just fine).
Back in September after the Surf Coast Century, I said to my coaches that I didn’t want to do the miler. “I don’t like running in the dark and all the added trails are in the dark so I won’t get to see them anyway”, I told them at dinner. Somehow a month later I had signed up, convincing myself it was a once and a lifetime opportunity. Would it have changed my training, nope probably not. Would I have still gotten injured, yep probably.
But after watching the hard core runners run for 20-34 hrs in the rain and mud, do I want to sign up next year, hell freakin no!
Reading Amelia Boone’s blog posts about her injuries and crewing at her goal race there were a few things that rang true. Yes I was sad about not running it, but there was also a lot of joy to be had in helping others to achieve their goals. I know it sounds cheesy, and maybe if the conditions were better I would have felt differently, but it was great to see the other side of the coin and see what the families and volunteers go through whilst us runners battle the kilometres.
If nothing else, this years Tarawera Ultra thought me two things, 1: I really do love running and 2: Pay attention to the people that are around you, they are people, not circus freaks or servants, and they love running as much as you do.
I’m proud of hubby on achieving the completion of a 100 mile race and can’t wait to run again myself, but not a bloody miler, I’m not that crazy.