Wild Earth Ascent “mid-pack” Race Report

Rachael Buttar, a Cromwell local and self proclaimed “average Joe Bloggs runner” tacked the Wild Earth Ascent 1/2 Marathon a few weekends ago. Despite the scare mongering by race director Terry Davis (really- who tries to scare people away from entering their race?) Rachael survived the Wild Earth Ascent 1/2 and has shared with us her experience on the slopes of Mt Difficulty-

When I first saw Terry’s very excited post about his dream to put on this awesome run up to Mt Difficulty coming to fruition, I got quite excited too.  Terry had mentioned it to me a couple of times over the past few years and I have always really enjoyed my training runs up to Mt D.  And then I saw the video he posted a few weeks before the race and to be totally honest it kind of freaked me out!

Rachael early in the big climb. Photo : Alastair Hanson.

Rachael early in the big climb. Photo : Alastair Hanson.

Now, I’m just your average Joe Bloggs runner – I’m not that fast, in a midsize field I usually come in around the middle, and only once in my life have I had a podium finish (and that was probably through none of my own doing!) but I have done quite a few events so consider myself to have a reasonable amount of experience – I just like to get out there and enjoy the fantastic countryside and running companionship that is on offer.   I have done a “Terry Davis special” before – one of my very first mountain running events was the inaugural Highland Events Skyline Challenge (which is no longer held) in pouring rain and snowing at the top of Mt Alpha.

So at first I was really excited about this race and then I was absolutely terrified.  Terry did not help matters at all when we were sitting at our kids swimming lessons, talking about the race and he said to me that there was potential in this race for someone to die.  Great way to promote the race Terry!! Not only did he tell me this once or twice but about a hundred times (ok slight exaggeration, but only slight).  By this stage I was kind of thinking that maybe I shouldn’t do this event, that I wasn’t up for it and it was too technical for me.  But I couldn’t stop thinking about it and how awesome the course was and it drew me in.  So nothing like leaving it to the last minute (especially after yet more warnings from Terry about the danger), I entered on Friday.

Then we had the briefing and needless to say I didn’t sleep well on Friday night.

Saturday morning dawned with the classic Cromwell fog and I knew we would be in for a gorgeous day up above it on the hill.  Nerves reached their peak but also the excitement of the unknown was creeping in.  There’s nothing like doing a race for the very first time for me – not knowing what lies ahead and also not having any pressure of previous times to beat and goals to achieve.  I went into this event thinking I would take around 4 hours to complete it and I was going to try and “enjoy” it as much as I could.  To be honest I was not looking forward to the first part of the run – having to do a lap of the rustic course first before we headed uphill did not excite me in the slightest but as it turned out it was the perfect warmup before hitting the steep stuff and I actually enjoyed the loop.  Terry had warned us at the briefing of the steep uphill in the first part of the climb and he said we would know in the first 10 minutes if we wanted to continue – and there would be no shame in turning back and going to do the Rustic instead.  “Like hell” I had thought at the time – no way would I be turning back to go down after getting part of the way up that hill. The climb up didn’t bother me in the slightest (from a heights/gradient) perspective, yes it got steep, VERY STEEP, it was definitely hands on the ground territory and I was making sure at some points that I was certain where my hands and feet were placed before I made my move but I plugged away quite happily and made my way up the course following the markers.  I was thinking at that point that Terry had unnecessarily tried to scare me off – not knowing what still lay ahead on the downhill section!  I wasn’t keen to look back to see where I had come from until I eventually made it through the fog and out into brilliant sunshine where it was welcome relief to stop and take a couple of photos.  At this point it wasn’t as steep as previously and it was a little easier to continue the climb up.  At one point I looked up and could see the runners far ahead in the distance and it was a little daunting that I still had quite a way to go.  It was very slow going up the side of that hill for the 3km climb – my watch recording two 30 minute kilometres and a slightly quicker one at 25 minutes!!!  Catching a glimpse of a radio tower I yelled out to the guy behind me that we were nearly there – only for it to disappear again and we had to slog it out for what seemed quite a distance before finally reaching Steve, the marshall at the top of Mt D.  At this point I had put my hat and gloves back on, as well as my windproof vest, as there was a bit of a cold breeze blowing and it did make me think that I wouldn’t like to be doing this event in bad weather as we were quite exposed up there.


Rachael heading for home after surviving the “tickey” bit above. Photo: Nigel Lines

After a bit of a chat with Steve and refuelling I made my way onto the 4WD track to start the descent – checking my watch I saw I had covered 9.5km in 2:18, not even half way I thought but quite happy I should be well on track for under 4 hours.  The next few km ticked away as I ran down and chatted with Alan from Queenstown.  It was pretty easy running, down the 4WD track – just the odd snow drift to run around the edge of and a few slick parts to watch out for.  We hit the fog again just before the tape directing us to head off the 4WD track and back onto the uneven, untracked ground.  This slowed us down again as it was harder to run on and also the fog made it difficult to see where we were headed so there were quite a few points that I had to stop and look hard for the next marker to make sure we headed in the right direction.  But I never felt like we couldn’t find where we were going so I was happy with the track marking.  At this point I’m thinking again what on earth was Terry Davis going on about trying to freak me out with warnings of a nasty descent and his story about when Ed started shaking his head and telling Terry he couldn’t make people go down that way  – when we reached Penny, who was marshalling, and was meant to be at the worst part of the descent but had climbed up further as apparently people were getting a little wary higher up from where she was originally.  Penny told us to take it easy down through where she was but it was nothing to worry about and then to watch out for the yellow Caution signs.  That was all fine, we made it down past Penny cheerily waving goodbye, made it carefully past the first caution sign and then we hit the second caution sign and OH MY GOD I then knew what Terry was talking about!!  It was steep and technical and pushed me right outside my comfort zone coming down that cliff face – I came down most of that face on my backside and clinging on to any thyme bush I could get my hands on, at one point I was the most uncomfortable as I really just didn’t know what my next move was going to be but Alan had kindly stuck with me and made sure I got down safely with a few pointers of where to go next – albeit very slowly!!  There was only one point in that descent that I felt totally unsafe and the rest it was just up to me to know my limits and come down however I thought I could.  I’m not ashamed to say I came down there pretty slowly – I’m just happy to say I got down in one piece without tumbling to the bottom!!  Thinking back on it now I needed to go down that slowly, as if I had tried to rush myself over something that I just had never experienced before it could have ended in total disaster – just like Terry had said!

After the scramble down it was a climb through the fence back onto the 4WD track that led us back to the rustic course and an easy 2km trot home.  I met my husband a few hundred metres from the finish who had come looking for me as he was tracking me by GPS and he had got worried as it looked like I had stopped in one place and hadn’t moved for 15 minutes – yeah I said cause I had to come down Terry’s hideous cliff face and it probably took me 15 minutes!!!!!

Happy to be finished in under 4 hours, I reflected back on the race and the reality set in that I had actually done it and completed another one of “Terry’s specials” and special it was – nothing I have done before this race compares in any way, shape or form.  A gruelling climb and then technical downhill, where I was pushed right to my limit, made for a race where time spent running was outweighed by time spent hiking or clinging to the hillside but I loved every second I was out there (okay maybe not the cliff face as much!!) and the buzz I had for the rest of the day tells me I’ll be back again for more next year.  You haven’t quite managed to scare me off just yet Terry!!

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