To celebrate the running of the second annual WUU2K on 15 July 2017, we’re going back in time to Dave Piper’s amazing effort from the first one in 2016.
It’s 0600. It’s dark. It’s cold. I need to bathroom. And it seems all 140 WUU2K competitors have the same idea (see Amanda’s musings on this phenomenon on her hilarious blog). Did I mention it’s dark? But for many of the competitors, that’ll be sorted once the sun comes up and managed with a head torch until then…
Enter Dave Piper: Triathlete, father, radio producer, ultramarathon rookie and all round good bastard. Dave also happens to be totally blind.
Time out: How does that work?!
To make navigation easier for Dave, he runs with a guide. Or two. Or three. Just to give him a heads-up on changing terrain, stairs, corners, etc. Side-by-side we run, with a rugby sock “tether” between us, chatting away. If you didn’t know he was blind, you might think we were just two blokes holding hands (I’m cool with that – perhaps we should get a rainbow sock?). I met Dave through Achilles International, a group that helps people with disabilities participate in mainstream athletics. When we run together, we look like this:
For WUU we decided to have two guides for the full 60k (Olivier & myself) with a third (Matt) joining us from Owhiro Bay for the final push. So it was that “Team Dave” joined the rowdy rabble of rugged runners and waited with bated breath for the starter’s gun. It’s 0630. And we were off…
Leg 1: Backseat driver
Olivier & Dave set off at a fairly decent clip, then we get stuck behind people walking up the stairs and zig zags. It’s okay, we need to save our energy for later. It feels weird to not be guiding at this point, but it’s going to be a long day, so I’m happy to share the fun. Head torches cast long shadows on the ground making root & rock identification difficult, but the glow of hundreds of LED lamps stretching off into the distance look pretty awesome. We conquer Mt Kaukau then it’s onto the Skyline walkway: familiar territory. Dave & Olivier plod along, the tracks narrow and Team Dave goes into “truck & trailer” mode. Dave runs directly behind, holding Olivier’s backpack. It’s effective, but taxing on both athlete & guide. Also, it’s terrifying to be behind, watching how close Dave comes to the edge, or a tree, or a knee high fence…I get really hungry on this leg and demolish 2 (possibly 3) one square meals. The chocolate & honey one are really nice. Mmmmm.
We arrive at checkpoint #1 at 0815, 15min behind the average predicted time. So far so good.
Leg 2: Feeling lost
My turn. It doesn’t take long for Dave & I to settle into a rhythm up to Makara Hill. We’ve done this before, but at night, in a howling Southerly. Then we make our way down. Into a place I’ve not been before. Parts feel like an abandoned goat track, with some pretty technical sections to get down. We descend for a long, long time. Then we have to get back out. It’s tough and we have to walk. It’s here that the doubt starts to creep in. We shouldn’t be walking this, we’re gunna miss those cut-off times…It won’t be the only time that happens today.
We climb up out of that dark place thanks to some of the Moo-tivational propaganda on the course, and arrive at bovine-themed checkpoint #2 at 1005, only 5 min behind the average predicted time.
Leg 3: Getting hungry I am
A few years ago I read “Ultramarathon Man” by Dean Karnazes. He’s my hero. He orders pizza on his long runs. I want to be like him.
It was all sorted, my wife would bring us two meat lovers pizzas (from Domino’s, not Pizza Hut – too oily). I start fantasizing about my pizza…Thank God Olivier is guiding this leg…Man that pizza’s gunna be so good…I wonder if it’ll still be hot…I hope she gets two…Oh, one would be okay…Nah, two. We need two…Fuck! Where’s Dave? Shit!
He’s fallen over the edge. One of the hazards of truck & trailering. We lift him back up, out of the pickles and back to terra firma. We dust off the gorse, pick bits of it out of his hands and we’re off again. Dude, did you grab the gorse on your way over?! You think you’re tough? You ain’t got nothing on Dave Piper.
…Where was I? Two pizzas. Definitely two pizzas…Ha! Was that a picture of Obi Wan Kenobi?…
We arrive at checkpoint #3 at 1130. Nicola’s brought us two pizzas. Meaty ones. From Dominos. And they’re still warm. I inhale my pizza. Then offer some to others. Only then do I notice that this aid station is Star Wars themed. Love it! We take photos and stock up on supplies before the Star Wars band plays us off. May the Force be with you…and also with you…
Leg 4: Willy’s time to shine
Okay, so I miss the turn-off from the car park, but once we get underway, it’s a pretty awesome leg. Popping out of Barking Emu we we’re with the marshalls at the top of the Tip Track. We let that apprehension wash over us and head for Red Rocks (we can deal with Tip Track later).
Holy shit! This seems way rougher than last time we did it. Could there be any more loose stones? Was there an avalanche I didn’t know about? Guiding quickly makes you realise how limited your word-thingy is: This downy bit coming up is a bit shit, mate. The views are always incredible and I love describing them to Dave, in spite of my limited vocabulary.
There’s an amazing technical descent towards Red Rocks. Single track, with plenty of odd stones sticking out to challenge even the most accomplished wordsmith. Luckily Dave has rubber ankles and his feet just seem to adapt to changing terrain. In training we tried crossing the stream without getting our feet wet. I couldn’t make it work then and I won’t make it work now, so we just skip through the water, our feet thankful for the cool, and trot towards the next stop. And more pizza!
We arrive at checkpoint #4 at 1345, my Garmin dies and I shed a tear for having to make WUU two smaller entries in Strava instead of one EPIC entry. Do I have a problem?
Leg 5: Fuck. This. Shit
Matt joins us as a much needed pacer & spirit keeper-upper and takes the reins (or sock actually).
Who decided the Tip Track was a good idea? We walk up that shit, collapse at the top, scurry back down.
Nicola sets up an impromptu aid station at the bottom with powerade for all: An Oasis in the WUU desert. It’s 1545 and we’re off to Tawatawa reserve. Did anyone else see that dude walking a goat? Or was that a hallucination??? It was a very pretty goat…Baaaaaaaaa…
Up, down, up, and up. We don’t quite get to Mt Albert by the 1600 cut-off and get disqualified by Brent, who must’ve drawn the short straw because pulling people 8km from the finish seems like a shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit job if there ever was one.
But we didn’t come all this way to let a minor technicality stop us from completing the 60K course. We take off our timing chips, etc, don our head torches, and carry on as “Bandits”. Matt keeps us honest by following the course markings. Once we get to Mt Victoria, we seem to have to run the fuckin’ Vosseler Shield (NZ’s toughest XC event) before we’re be allowed to finish! Fortunately that’s my favourite race of the harrier season, bitch.
We plod along to the final hill, Brent appears alongside us in his jeans and jacket. Then Dangerous Dave, with over 11 hours on the legs, SPRINTS up the hill to the finish, dragging whoever is guiding along behind him. 11 hours 15 minutes start to finish. Stoked. Inspired. Exhausted. Hungry. Take your pick of emotions. They were all there. Dawn until dusk running. The best way to spend a day.
I’d like to thank Team Dave:
Dave Piper – for letting me share this with him
Olivier Lacoua & Matt McNeil – for sharing the love
Behind Team Dave we have our friends:
Lauren Milstead – Master guide, organiser and training buddy
Josh Thomas – guide and training buddy
Nicola Bell – logistics, catering and “running widow”
Our friends at Achilles Wellington
Apologies if I haven’t credited any photos properly. It’s sometimes hard to track down where they actually come from.
For the nerds
Time on the feet: 11:14:56
Elevation gain: 3,003m