As owner of Kiwi Multisport I have sponsored the Old Ghost Ultra (OGU) since it started 3 years ago. There is just something about this race and the people associated with it that just has that very special feeling.
Last year, after doing a little training run on the finishing end part of the track, whilst the race was taking place, I foolishly joked that I might take part in it this year and so I did.
I spoke to Ray from Qwik Kiwi to see if he would train me for this massive challenge, as those of you who know me, will know I’m not built like your typical endurance runner, sitting at 97kg and built more for rugby. Luckily he agreed.
The main focus for me was just to firstly get to the start line without injury, then complete it by making the cut off times and then make sure that I enjoyed taking part and stopping when and where I needed to for photos and just taking in the amazing views.
So 4.25am on Saturday arrived and the bus from Westport was transporting me to the start of the race. There were a few nervous looking people on the bus, including myself. The 50km ride gave me far too much time to think about what I was about to undertake.
Once we got to the start we dropped our drop bags off and waited till we were asked to approach the start line ready for a 6am start. This year they started the race a few hundred meters back from the track, to give people a chance to spread out before we hit the single trail. This worked out really well and we were off on our big adventure.
As the start of the OGU track is single trail it is hard to pass people so there were soon a few big trains of people to pass. Also most of the bridges are 2 people only so you do stop a little sometimes to wait for the bridge to clear.
For the first hour we were in the dark so we were under headlamps, but once the sun rose you started to get a full feeling of how magical the trail is. We had to complete the first 17km within 2hrs 45mins to leave Specimen Point. I managed to leave the check point with 30mins to spare, so I was really happy about this. I tried to keep to an easy pace of 7:30min/km and this meant that I felt really fresh leaving the first aid station.
The next part of the course was 25km to Stern Valley. This again was relatively flat for the first few kilometres and then you started the first climb up and over the ridge into Stern Valley. As I wanted to not kill myself on the first climb, I decided to walk to uphill and run the flats and downhills. It seemed this same tactic was used by all of the other people around me.
Once we got up onto the first ridge, we descended down the Bone Yard which was very rocky under foot. Many stubbed toes occurred here and near falls but I kept my feet. I started to talk to one of the other runners, Hillary, at this stage and we both ran into the Stern Valley aid station on the 6 hour mark, 1hr ahead of the cut off time. This was the first marathon complete. Here we could access our drop bags, refuel and change shoes if needed. I kept my trusty Altra’s on and headed out of the aid station after 20 minutes. I must admit I had a little bit of doubt drop into my head at this stage, as I knew I had another marathon to run and this time I had all of the main part of the climbing to do, 15 kilometres of it. I set off running but very quickly the gradient started and I had to limit myself again to walking the hills.
Hillary caught up to me at this stage and from this point we decided that we would finish the rest of the run off together as the conversations were great and we could help each other through the final part of the run.
We continued to climb up the switch backs until we arrived at the dreaded steps. Who the hell puts steps into a race after 48 kilometres? Anyway for some strange reason they didn’t feel that bad and we knew that once at the top of the steps, we only had a little climb before we arrived at Skyline Ridge and man was the views worth it.
We continued along the ridge, taking in the views, before then looking up and realising we had another 400m of elevation before we reached Old Ghost Hut. Only problem was that we had to drop back down a couple of hundred meters first before we climbed up again.
As the conversations were in full flow, we soon turned a corner and realised we were right below the hut. We ran into the hut, 2 hours ahead of the cut off time and took full advantage of the hospitality from the SAR volunteers who were truly amazing and need full acknowledgement.
Once refuelled, we set off for the very last part of the climb to Heavens Door and again the view from here were amazing. I think you get the idea that the views along this course are amazing!!!
From here we knew it was 27km of downhill to the finish line. We took it easy on the way down to the last aid station at Lyell Hut as our legs were feeling it slightly and it was really easy to trip again.
Once at Lyell Hut we refuelled for the last time and set off for the final 17km. As Hillary and I ran/walked we kept saying how our main priority was to just complete the race and time wasn’t important, but once we reached the 12km marker we realised that we might just be able to finish under 14 hours if we pushed a little harder. So a plan was formed that we would run 2km and then walk 30secs to recover before running another 2km. Please keep in mind that at this stage we had already ran 75km with 2600m of climbing.
Our legs were certainly feeling it but we pushed each other on for each 2km stint and as Hilliary was leading the charge, her shouts of joy when we reached each 2km mark was welcome relief, especially when we reached the final 2km marker and we knew we had the 14 hour time in the bag.
We reached the final bridge, climbed the last few steps and then ran together over the finish line where we were greeted by Phil the race director.
We had completed it and after all the high fives and big hugs we sat down with a beer and soaked in our great achievement.
I would highly recommend this event to anyone who is thinking of running an Ultra. As I mentioned at the start, this race has a very special aura and that is completely down to the organisers and the Trust that maintain the track. Phil and his team are truly amazing people and I feel very privileged to have been part of this fantastic event not only as a competitor but also a sponsor.
To finally finish I would just like to thank some very important people, who without their help I would not have been able to complete this huge challenge.
Firstly I’d like to thank my coach Ray Boardman from Qwik Kiwi, who knew exactly what I needed to do to get to the start uninjured and fully refreshed to take this on. I’d also like to thank Hillary, who I met on the course and who I shared this amazing day with. You certainly pushed me when I needed it and you made the day even more memorable.
Finally I have to thank my amazing wife Michelle, who kicked me out of bed on a morning when I felt lazy and also looked after our 11 month son Joshua whilst daddy was out playing in the hills.
Kiwi Multisport Limited
Check out Gareth’s Garmin Connect file: