Running the Paparoa


It’s 4am and there are some stars out, a good sign. We’re up, coffee’d in record time and on the road from Punakaki to Blackball, headed for the start of the Paparoa.

All week the forecast has been fluctuating but the general consensus is that there’s a great lump of rain sitting over the Tasman sea just waiting to dump on the West Coast. Will it come in before we’re through the tops? Will it hold off til lunchtime? The lack of certainty prompts the early start. 

Lack of certainty is my achillies heel when it comes to running. I’ve been thinking about this run for ages, in fact I’ve definitely been over thinking it. As usual.

I’ve wanted to run an ultra for over 10 years. Each time I’ve built to a decent bit of fitness I’ve had things crop up (2 hernia operations in the space of 8 months, a long term petalla injury, a plantar plate tear in my right foot, COVID twice to name a few). Some real physical challenges and definitely a mental barrier to break through as well. 

So I made a conscious decision to try and get out of my head for this mission. I’ve been sorely tested in the build up, visited by the ghosts of all my injuries past. “Here, have a knee niggle. Oh you’re going to go to the gym and doing the physio exercises for that? Well what about a tight hammie, fine you seem ok with that, here’s something else…”. Each time I’ve had to have a talk with myself and lo and behold it’s nothing serious. 

6am and we’re off, the dawn is stunning. We wind our way up to Ces Clarke hut popping out onto the tops and it’s beautiful. Cold and windy though, gloves on. None of us have been more than 47km before so we’re taking it easy and mostly walking the hills.

At 13.5km in, the drizzle starts to set in. We can still see Barrytown beach but it’s pretty grey and flat. That’s not a good sign, it’s not even 9am. This could be a long, wet day. 

Past Moonlight hut, we wind into some forested bits. I’m just starting to feel a bit low, glutes are tired and I’m wondering if this going to be a struggle. Stop it, you’re over thinking this again. 

Suddenly we round a corner into some sunshine. The vegetation’s true colours shine through, vivid and delightful. The rain is gone and the visibility increases. My friend Joe and I are in the lead and rounding every corner reveals some new glorious vista. Fantastic slabbed rock formations, shear drops to the west and east. Rock escarpments that flow with the track and a sweeping argillite basin that photos struggle to capture. Endorphins are flowing and the sore legs and doubts are forgotten. By the time we are off the tops my cup is well and truely full. 

We pass below a spectacular water fall and wonder what that would look like in the rain that still hasn’t arrived.

Pulling up to Pororari hut, we chat with the trampers who are a bit envious about us going through in a day. More respect given when they find out we’re running not biking. Only 17km to go, suddenly I know with certainty I can do this. It’s a wonderful realisation.

There’s even a bit of welcome drizzle to cool me off. 

At 43.1km (the exact distance of my previous longest run, give or take a GPS error or two) there is a bridge to cross, a metaphorical rubicon.

The 43km Bridge

We’re stopped for a quick moment at 47km when we meet a runner who has come up the track from Punakaki. He jumps on the train but when the pace is slower and the conversation more monosyllabic than he envisioned, he shots off. I guess we might look like ultra running bad asses but none of us are feeling it right now.  

At 50km there is a gate to go through. Another threshold crossed.

The swearing doesn’t start until we hit the steps in the last couple of Km. Really there are only two dozen or so, I spare a thought for the folks running in the blue mountains

Before I know it, there are the Pou, marking the end of the track. We’re done and super chuffed. What an epic day! Burgers and beer await. I’m so grateful, grateful to my friends who joined me on the mission and much of the training, grateful to the Paparoa which was absolutely stunning. 

The rain doesn’t hit in earnest until we are asleep.

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