On the 25th of January the “St James Stampede” took place in the St James Conservation Area in North Canterbury. The ultra race is part of the James Mountain Sports Series. BCR is lucky enough to have been sent the below race report from Leah Anstis.
This past weekend marked a year since I first dabbled in ‘ultra’ running. And what better way to celebrate, then to go back and suffer through the very same event which got me hooked 12 months earlier - The Ems Power Cookie St James Stampede. Heath Lunn and his crew of volunteers work hard to put on this event, and I certainly thinks it deserves some good press. I can’t comment on the multi sport and mountain bike events, but they seem to pull some hardy athletes. If they are anything like the 50km Ultra Marathon(52km by my watch) , then you need to have a fairly hefty pair of ‘nads’ to take them on.
Being a true blue Aucklander, St James is a total contrast to what I’m use to. I turned up to the start line at a leisurely 9 minutes prior to kick off (I’m an Aucklander, I needed coffee) and I was not expecting the nippley 2 degrees which greeted me. Everyone was rugged up, and I was in my dashing new Cadence Kit and spankley Innov8 F-lites, courtesy of Highbeam NZ (shameless plug). My Ultra Aspire (Last plug I promise) was packed to the rim with compulsory gear. I was hoping to ditch some of this like the previous year… but my heart sank when it was announced we had to take it all. I know a lot is said about buying light gear that packs away small, but I generally have a rule that if I need that much stuff, I’m probably not going to race. I don’t have ambitions to be a Sherpa, let alone a Sherpa carrying a $200+ wind proof, seam sealed jacket. I’ll be the first to admit I have very little sense of adventure.
So after a quick brief of the course, a joke about getting lost, me and around 35 others were sent on our way. The first few km are breath-taking, quite literally. It’s all uphill. Ten minutes in I was already conjuring up the best excuse to get MediVac’d out of there. The cold fresh air didn’t agree with my soft pollution filled lungs. I found myself struggling to breath and trying to dislodge a lung. Failing to get it out, continuing on was my option. Once at the top, I knew things were fairly easy going for the next few hours and settled in to a happy place… until I found the deepest mud hole in the world, and fell in waist deep, much to the entertainment of three other runners around me. Not letting a muddy fanny ruin my day, I dragged myself out and carried on to Lake Guyon. It’s like running into a calendar, pristine fields, calm glassy lake, and glistening snow-capped mountains in the back ground. It’s something to behold. Then you inhale a shit tone of sandflies and realise you’re in a race not a calendar.
Not far from the lake is the first of two aid stations. Fairly standard fare on offer, Ems Power Bars, Bananas and sunscreen. I was already feeling a little green, so posed for a photo and carried on to the Stanley River. Here, in front of my three companions, I decided to provide some further entertainment and went for another mud bath. I made sure I got it all over my drink bottle so that every time I took a sip, I could really enjoy the aroma of shitty mud. The Stanley River section is probably my favourite. Lots of crossings, diversity and solid legs of running, all in the shadows of the towering mountains either side. Eventually you pop out on to ‘The Racecourse’, a vast open field of alpine mush. I believe the mush survives purely on the energy it sapped from each of my foot steps, as well a little sprinkling of hopes and dreams, anything remaining you hand over as you exit and head up the biggest climb and descent of the day. It’s hard to be mad about the 360 degree view once you reach the top, but it is much easier to be upset about getting to the bottom. I put on what I consider a terrible display of athleticism in downhill running. My quads are still reminding me four days later. It’s something in the equation of (D+H) / (B x P) = Q and for those playing at home : (Downhill + My Height) / (Beers x Pies) = Quad Damage
At the bottom of the hill we were greeted with a cheery crew at the last aid station, just a 15km trot to get to the finish. By all accounts, it’s an easy road, if you’re an above average runner with better fitness than me. The next 8km turned into a run and walk combo, with a solid face plant when I tripped on some fairy dust. I cried. It wouldn’t be one of my Ultra tails if I didn’t cry. Not a full on sob this time, just enough to evacuate some emotion so I could keep running. And that I did, I was very glad to see the flag pointing us to the last real climb of the run. It was all down hill-ish after that.
By the time I got to the top, I was hot. My face resembled a well ripened tomato, but determined to get to the finish in under 7 hours, I pushed on. The walking brakes continued, and I somehow managed to have a panic attack midway down, a new addition to my list of ‘Stupid things I do during Ultras’. In what was the longest 6km of my life, maybe 100m from the finish, my watch ticked over 7 hours. I wanted to die. I crossed the line in 7:01:14, 2nd Female, mid pack over all. FML.
I’ve made no secret about being disappointed with my time. I’ll just try to convince myself I got a few more minutes to take in the amazing surroundings, something I’ll never see from my cosy Auckland cocoon. I guess this failure, small as it is, makes me more anxious to bust out a competitive time at the VTuM in six-ish weeks time. Though the hype around the event is a little lost on me sorry. I couldn’t rattle off more than two ‘big names’ on the starters list. I am more concerned about how long it’s going to take 700+ people to funnel up the stairs in the first km of the course!
Congratulations once again to Heath for putting on a successful event, I am not sure I will have another round in me, but I’ll certainly work on sending a convoy of Aucklander’s down for 2015.