Trail running by yourself: don’t be stupid!

While I really enjoy road running in a group, especially paced ones, I absolutely love trail running by myself. And even during events, I often find myself alone, which really makes me happy. There is this sense of freedom when you are in the middle of what seems to be “nowhere”, but I also enjoy the challenge of having to find my way through the tracks. I am far from being a great adventurer, but I really enjoy feeling like one. And this is where I, or you, shouldn’t be tricked into thinking you are a hero: don’t be stupid!

I signed up for a few long trail races in the coming months, so I really have to train for them. I don’t live near big parks or forests and can only run on the trails on Sundays. Spring has been a B**** lately, with sunny weekdays and terrible Sundays. But 2 weeks ago, we had a really sunny Saturday and I got excited: I decided to go in the Waitakere Ranges to run the next day. Another exciting factor was that I just bought a pair of Icebug Zeal1 and really wanted to try them in bad weather conditions.

I went to the Wild Things trail directory (a formidable source to find trails, I really recommend it) and found one that seemed reasonable: 21k, supposed to be finished in 4h30 for novices and 1000m ascent: perfect! Say hello to the “Wild Turkey and Omanawanui trail“!

I prepared my stuff the night before and was ready to leave home at around 6:45am. And that’s when things started to go wrong:

  • How far was this trail, actually? 1h30 away! That means I’m not going to be home before 1:30pm at least!
  • How is the weather this morning? Rainy and windy: that means bringing a raincoat.

But instead of falling back to my backup plan: going to Totara Park, which is just 20min away, I decided to try my luck.

THIS! So much of this…

View from the top of Gibbons track

Once at the start, it was gloomy, but not raining. It took me at least 15min to understand how the “Navigation” feature of my Garmin works and to find the starting point. After about 50m of running, I was already passing through big puddles of mud. But my Zeals did the job and I felt confident that I would be able to make it through. So I started running. I was actually feeling good at first, but then it started raining and being really windy. After 2km on the Gibbons Track, I reached the top of the cliff and told myself: “I should have come here on a sunny day, I would be enjoying this so much more!”. The view was great, but the wind was dangerous: I could easily fall from up there.

There was really a lot of mud and the elevation was really steep. I realised that my pace was way slower than what I anticipated the previous day. But after 4km I reached Muir track, which was going downhill. And I started feeling great again, enjoying the grip of my Zeals, not slipping and falling like I usually do with bad shoes: so much pleasure! Until…

WHERE IS THE TRACK?

Try to avoid it if you are afraid of heights…

If I wanted to continue running, I would have to hang on to these chains to help me be back on tracks (quite literally) on the other side. I’m afraid of heights and was already imagining having to go run back to the start. Climbing back Muir track was not a very pleasant option. I also thought that if I fell, nobody could hear me, with or without my whistle. It seemed that nobody was running or hiking this track today. Finally, in a bold move, I decided to try my luck and very carefully crossed. Wow I did it!

Testing the Zeals in this stream was not my greatest idea…

I went on, definitely behind schedule and crossed a stream: time to test the Zeals again. Bad idea. When I bought these shoes, I didn’t realise they were not just water resistant, but actually water proof. There is absolutely NO drainage! I had to remove them in order to drain the water out of them. And I could hear the “squelsh squelsh” in the shoes for a few more km. But I went on. Km after km. It seemed like it was never ending. Going up and up and up. In the mud. Up again. Never down. The only good side is that the grip of the shoes was excellent. Not adapted to stream crossing, but perfect for these muddy conditions. I saw a few hikers at some point, exchanged a few words as they were really surprised to see me running this track, and then I went on again.

Reaching 15km, the Sun came out for a few minutes. I took a few selfies. I texted my wife that there were only 6km left and that I should be home by 3pm maximum. I thought the last 5 kms were just going downhill, but I was very, very wrong. The hardest part was actually to come. And I was running low on supplies.

I expected to be gone for 4h, so I packed 1 bag of dried mangoes, 4 tiny Cliff bars and probably 1.5L of water. The mangoes were all gone already and I had maybe 1 Cliff bar left. And not much water. And that’s when I faced the reality: I still had to climb to the top of the Omawanui track: 2 tiny summits actually. The Sun was gone, the rain started to be more intense and I was not in the forest anymore: no protection. But I had to finish this. So I climbed. Until…

What? Chains again?

 

Yup. I was tired, very hungry, started to feel thirsty, was already out since more than 5h and… f-f-f-f-freaking chains again! I had to pull myself up. The wind was really intense up there! My face was getting whipped by the rain. I couldn’t open my eyes to see clearly and I was really afraid of falling down. What was I doing here? But from the summit, I could also see the carpark. A glimpse of hope. I reached the final descent. 1 km left and I’m done! That’s when I fell for the first time. I guess I was too tired and paying less attention, but I slipped in the mud. Not a problem: I would soon be back in my car!

Aaaaand… DONE. It was already 3pm and I would be home after 4, but I was done. It took me almost 6h. And the ascent was not 1000m, but 1400m according to Strava. So what did I learn during this run? Well… A lot! Some say you learn more from your mistakes. In this case, I can confirm.

 

The view from the summit was nice at least.

Learnings when you go out on the trails alone:

  • Don’t just read the description of a trail, make sure you understand it well. From beginning to end. Check the terrain too: are there going to be streams to cross? How often? Are they deep?
  • Pack more food than you think you need. And not just cereal bars. A good sandwich would have been great during this run.
  • Same for water.
  • If the weather is not good: don’t try crazy unknown places alone. And not 1h30 away. Stay close.
  • Leave water and supplies in your car too. I would have loved drinks and food when I went back to my car. But apart from a (very dry) cereal bar, I didn’t have anything.
  • Send your itinerary to someone: tell them where you go. Well that one I did, but just make sure not to forget about it.
  • Have shoes adapted to the terrain. I don’t think my old NB would have done the same job as my Icebugs that day. But they were not the best either.

The contrast between the 2 selfies… Taken about 30min apart.