The Harcombe Round
Wednesday 22nd December 2021

This last weekend I attempted to run my most challenging solo ultra-marathon yet. I was unsuccessful. I managed to complete 128km and over 6,000 metres of vertical climb in 33 hours, a fair chunk short of the 165k and 9,000m climb I set out to do. Running 100 miles is never easy, not for anyone. This is a challenging 100 miler too. I'm disappointed to not finish, but there are positives to take away.

From the Remarkables view point - the first summit of the round

At 5am on Sunday I set off from Queenstown waterfront, seen off by my crew (Ariana, Connor and Chris - with Cam and Ronja to join later) and the two previous finishers of the Round, Adam and James. The first seven hours were textbook. I moved easily over the flat Frankton trail to the foot of the Remarkables and the first climb (approx. 1500 metres) was effortless. Crossing over the top of the Sugar Bowl and towards Ben Cruachan was when the wind first became a serious issue. I have no idea how fast the wind was, and even if I did, I don't know how much that would help describe the force. Put it this way; I was literally knocked over by the power of the wind, thrown off my feet as if I was a party balloon in the way of a tornado. I tapped the summit rocks of Ben Cruachan and quickly turned to make my way down from the summit, hoping for some still air. I met my crew in Gibbston at 1:30pm, ahead of schedule and feeling strong.

Kawarau River from the Gibbston river trail

What I thought might be a nice, easy section of the route was the flat and solid trail from Gibbston to Arrowtown. Unfortunately, the hard, gravel trail just beat my legs up. Very quickly my legs turned to lead, and my pace slowed down significantly. The section leaving Arrowtown was a loop of the Sawpit Gully, finishing back in Arrowtown where I would start the next climb. Lapping the Sawpit Gully was perhaps the most enjoyable part of the run. Chatting with Cam and Chris, enjoying the calm weather and cooling down in the stream. At the end of the loop I had run 75km in just under 13 hours - still a good way off being halfway.

The most enjoyable moment of the run - lapping Sawpit Gully with Cam and Chris

The sunset climb of the Crown Range was where everything started to go wrong for me. I was still moving uphill alright for the first hour of the climb, but then I started feeling weak and slowing up. I took a second to stop and eat some food, but within a few minutes the food was coming back out the way it went in. I struggled on to the summit knowing that if I couldn't get food to stay down then the run would be over. Despite a slower pace and an easier workload heading downhill I couldn't get anything to stay down. I was getting very weak and tired, heading out into the night in this condition would have been a very bad decision. In this situation in an event I would have found an aid station to crash at with the hope of feeling better soon. However, I was being looked after by my friends who had already up to this point given up their whole day to crew me. Asking them to wait around while I rested was not a fair option. I was totally gutted, but I called the run there and we went home. I had completed 100.2 kilometres and ~4,000 metres climb in a bit over 18 hours. My energy was low, stomach aching, but my legs felt great. I felt like I still had so much to give if only I could get power to the engine.

The sun starts to set as I climb the Crown Range - stomach issues start causing issues

6am Monday morning I woke hungry. I ate a sandwich and sat looking at my phone. I felt very frustrated looking over the messages of good luck from the day before and of bad luck from the last few hours. I was feeling fine now! The food was staying down nicely, and I couldn't help but feel that I gave up a bit too easily. I know I made a good choice to not continue into the darkness the previous night - but quitting the run and feeling fine six hours later just didn't sit right. I had to go out and give it a second shot.

Not long after 7am I was back in Arrowtown ready to continue where I left of. As long as the stomach issues didn't return I felt like I had a real shot of still finishing the round. Over the next seven hours I slowly moved around the Arrow River and over Brow Peak to Coronet Peak. The weather was warm like yesterday and unfortunately just as windy. I got absolutely battered over Brow Peak by a relentless beating from the north. Believe me when I say I pleaded with the wind to give me a break. Calm down for just a few minutes and I promise I'll stop shouting at you! It was slow going but consistently I made progress. Coming down from the Coronet Peak summit I had decided I would stop here. I was happy stopping here, where-as I wasn't the night before. I was still eating but I felt that the stomach issues were not far away again. The weather was awful, torrential rain had joined forces with the hurricane wind, and there would be nowhere to hide over the two remaining exposed mountains.

My diet has changed a lot over the last eight months which I suspect is why I had issues with eating food on this run. I need to re-figure out what foods I can use to power myself without issues. My legs though, were the damn stars of the show. The last two years, living in Queenstown, I have spent thousands of hours in the mountains. I didn't finish the Harcombe Round, but I ran 128km with 6,000 metres of vertical climb and my legs barely even ached. They never hurt, they never felt close to failure. If that's not a positive, a sign of huge progress, then I don't know what is.

Finishing the Harcombe round would have been so good, but sometimes you just must accept that it wasn't your day. If running 100 miles was easy, I wouldn't be interested.