Many things went through my mind as I waited for my speedy husband to finish The Great PukeokaHu Man v Horse race on Saturday 18 April.
I hope he’s ok (about a gazillion times)
The marshals will be keeping a good eye on him, no need to worry (about a gazillion times too)
Is that the ambulance quad bike??? I hope it’s not going for Paul (one time)
Go Pauly, Go! (wishing him all the positive energy I could muster)
Surely the next runner will be Pauly? (about 45 times)
How many hours has he been running now? (about 500 times)
After finishing the first leg of the relay – 16kms, I was driven back to the starting point of the race, the Pukeokahu Hall, country style in a side-by-side by one of the local farmers. Just as we arrived at the hall, there was Pauly about to start the second loop of the figure of eight course. He was in good spirits, feeling a bit crampy in the legs, but ok. He said later that he was encouraged to see that I’d finished, he was worried about me! He was able to go into the second loop without that concern.
The race started at 10am, I finished my leg at 12:46pm. I went and had a hot shower – it was so good to be out of the wet muddy gear!
That took a whole 30 minutes. It was about 1:30pm-ish at this stage.
After finishing the Cadbury Marathon in 4:09:00 we sort of thought that Paul would take about 4:30:00 to 5:00:00 to finish this event. That would mean he’d been crossing the line about 2:30pm to 3:00pm.
I did some stretching, ate some nuts and an energy bar, rehydrated with some electrolytes and had a nice sit in the warm car. It was a bit chilly out there and it just felt good to be snuggled up in my puffa jacket, warm and dry.
I was just thinking about heading up to the hall to wait when the winners galloped by. 4:02:00. The horses were puffing, wet and frothy with sweat. Everyone cheered but they had to pass the vet check to be declared first and second.
I waited at the hall, watching, looking out for the first runner. Not a runner in sight. Umm…perhaps this would take Paul longer than five hours. Nah, I thought, he’s fit and strong and running better than he ever has. Five hours tops! During this time a cheer came up from the vet check area – the winning horses had passed and were declared first and second. I couldn’t see the horses smiling but the riders were just beaming!
Two little blondies took a liking to my bright pink coat. For about half an hour we discussed our favourite colours and various reasons why some colours were good and others not so good. They thought my purple running shoes were rather nice too. All up I had a lot of pink on and to them that was a high score in the fashion stakes.
During this lovely conversation about colours the first runner came through in about 4:30:00. This was an elite runner. Gosh, I thought, 4:30:00 for an elite. Ummm, perhaps five hours is a bit unrealistic?
The realisation that Paul might be longer than five hours hit me and the anxiety took a little root in the pit of my stomach. I headed back to the car. The car was parked right near the gate where the competitors would come out from the second loop and head to the finish line. I ate some more nuts and started to go just a little nuts too.
How many times can the Unsporty Woman count the hours on her fingers in one day? Many, many, many times. 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm…nearly 3pm – five hours.
I paced between the car and corner. Several more runners and horses came into view. I cheered and clapped each one.
As they came near me I saw their haggard look, their muddy shoes, many had gone slipping and had huge smears of mud over their clothes. Bedraggled. Muddy. Exhausted BUT nearly finished!!! I’m so impressed with each and every participant!!!
Never ever underestimate the power of the cheer! Come on runner, you can do it! They lift their head and their posture becomes straighter. Put a smile on the face, make it look like it was the best ever run and that it was easy! Their smile begins to spread. Come on! Sprint to the finish!!! And they start to run and smile and look happy all the way to finish despite the toughest of all 40km runs.
But still no sight of my husband. None.
Ben, the second runner on the relay team I was in came to get his car and drive up for a shower. I was just about to head up to wait at the finish line. He said he’d seen Paul and that he was doing it tough. At least another hour he said. Another hour??? Six hours for Paul???
Waiting, worrying, getting anxious but remaining confident in the race organisers to look after each and every participant!!!
At 4:05pm Alex ran passed, the third runner of the relay team I was in. Gosh he made up some time. The Internationals finished in 6:05:00.
I got sick of pacing between the car and the gate. Heaven knows what others must be thinking of me? Strange lady pacing between a car and a gate, she needs to chill! I had several chats to people. I met a man who had been shearing in Tasmania. They all told me not to worry about my 4:09:00 marathon finisher husband who had been out on the course for more than six hours.
I moved up to the next gate and looked down at the course. Oh. My. Goodness. The last bit of the second loop, at the 40th km was the hugest of huge hills. Heart breaking; no wonder so many runners had paused to lean on the gate before their final run to the finish line.
I waited at this gate. Waited, waited and waited.
I kept cheering the runners and horses. I met a lovely lady at the dinner on the Friday night. As she heaved herself up the hill after 6:30:00 I cheered her and her words were: That was horrendous. Gosh. She is an experienced trail runner.
I was constantly watching right down at the end of the hill and all of a sudden some sheep grazing at that point scattered. That had to be Paul? Nope. I watched a runner slowly chip up the hill. I asked him if he’d seen Paul. Yes, he said, He’ll need a lot of care when he gets to the finish.
At 5pm I had a cry. At the gate waiting. I cried.
Paul taking this long was unheard of; off the scale. But I had enormous faith in the organisers. I was at the back of the first relay leg and the care and supervision by the marshals was incredible. I knew if there was an emergency they would be right on it.
A quad bike came passed and I waved it down. Any sight of my husband? Yes, he was struggling but making progress, he was in the company of the last horse and the tail-end-charlie riders (the sweepers).
Finally there he was. Paul walking very woodenly but slowly moving forwards. I was so relieved. I jumped up and down and cheered him all the way up that hill.
I am so proud of him. Many would have quit, but he kept on going.
At the top of the hill I gave him a big hug. He was in good spirits. I grabbed his drinks and jacket and sprinted (Unsporty Woman style) 200m to the finish line.
Together the last runner and the last horse and rider slowly ran/clip-clopped to the finish to thunderous cheers from all around. Paul just managed to cross before the horse and rider because the horse was a little startled by the cheering.
7:31:13. Last runner and the eternal pride of finishing the first Great PukeokaHu Man v Horse Race (just 1:13 over the cut off time which was graciously waved).
When he caught his breath he said to me that he’d wanted to quit many many times. Coming in last was ok but not finishing was not ok. He fought paralysing cramps for 18kms but kept slowly moving forwards. He said that the support from marshals and the backup crew was impeccable, he’d only to have said the word and they would’ve collected him. Likewise if they had thought he was in real trouble they wouldn’t have given him the option to continue. They would have scooped him up and brought him to the finish.
One of the things that kept him going was remembering my attitude to coming in at the back of the pack or last. If Annie can have such a good attitude, then I can too. I didn’t think I’d ever inspire my speedy Husband to keep going, but me and my little running story did.
On a day that really mattered I inspired my husband.
How many people do we inspire and not even know it? How many watch us as we plug away at our lack-lustre training runs? How many think If he/she can do it, I can too?
The Great PukeokaHu Man v Horse Race – we’ll be back for a rematch but more to experience the wonderful highland hospitality and truly beautiful scenery. We might do a bit more off-road running training before the next time though (The 25kms of Convicts and Wenches was more like a stroll in the park compared to this). But where else in this world is there a place like Pukeokahu? I don’t think there is anywhere quite like this uniquely wild and mountainous place that rests on the roof of the world.
Happy running 🙂
PS Official time will be out at the end of the week, the finishing times in this post are only from memory. I’m going to write one more post on this event that will include some accurate stats.