December 12, 2012

Jez Bragg Embarks on the run of a Lifetime on New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail

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Renowned British ultra runner and The North Face athlete Jez Bragg began an expedition that will take all of his mental and physical energy for the next 50 days: a nearly 2,000-mile run the length of New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail.

The Te Araroa Trail (1898 miles/3054km) opened in December 2011 and runs the full length of New Zealand from the top of the North Island in Cape Reinga to the bottom of the South Island in Bluff. It rivals some of the world’s greatest long distance trails such as the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail in the US. The majority of the route is off-road, through challenging and remote terrain presenting all sorts of different challenges. There are also some short road sections and several estuary crossings as well as a long down-stream paddle on the Whanganui River.

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Jez will, for the majority of the expedition, run solo with a ‘fast and light’ strategy. Since he is used to running ultra-races such as the 104 miles/168km The North Face® Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc®, he plans to complete the route north-to-south in a period of less than 50 days, averaging between 37-50 miles (60-80km) per day for the full duration. Supported by a support crew of two, medic Dr Mark Taylor and expedition coordinator James Ashwell, the team will follow him in a motor home providing logistical support where possible. Jez expects to encounter long stretches of trail where support won’t be possible, and during those periods he will carry a fast-pack setup to provide complete self-sufficiency. On the South Island, where the terrain is particularly challenging and accumulative fatigue becomes more of a factor, Jez will be joined for intermittent running support from his US teammate, Mike Wolfe.

Jez will wear products from the Spring ’13 collection including the Better Than Naked short sleeve, short and jacket; the Stormy Trail jacket and Hyper-Track Guide shoes, along with customized products provided by the product department to his exact specifications.

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Before heading out, Jez said: “Running this trail has been a dream of mine for several years and I have followed its progress with great interest. For me, ultra running is all about this type of adventure; the opportunity to explore remote and challenging landscapes in a very raw and pure way. There is no better way to explore a country like New Zealand with such outstanding natural beauty than to do it by foot. The work that has gone into getting this trail together to its eventual opening is simply mind-boggling. It will be a great honor to be one of the first to run it and hopefully showcase everything the country and the trail, has to offer. It will truly be an adventure of a lifetime.”

Get up-to-the-minute updates on the Te Araroa Expedition on thenorthfacejournal.com  or follow Jez on Twitter @JezBragg

January 28, 2013

Update from Te Araroa

6a00d834f4a66953ef017c365b5b7b970b-800wiDays 46-47: Hawea River to Queenstown

It’s been a great couple of days traversing across to the buzzing south island hotspot town of Queenstown. We’re now just north, in the lakeside suburb of Frankton from our pleasant spot next to the Hawea River, I finished the Hawea River and Outlet Tracks to takeme through to Wanaka. All the running was on gently meandering and undulating waterside trails, and being close to built up areas as well as a Saturday morning, busy with local joggers, dog walkers and cyclists. It was really strange having to share the trail with anyone! I’ve spent so many days withseeing a sole, it really felt weird. The trails took me through to Wanaka, next to the popular watersports lake. It was a scorching summer’s day so Wanaka itself was also heaving with boaters, families and people generally getting in my way (scrooge, booooo….). Wanaka was bustling, but Tango Café had yet to get busy, so it presented a great opportunity to launch a raid for ice cream andchips, which came in generous quantities when they heard what I was up to. With the camera guys hovering around me, the conversation went along the lines of; waitress “are you famous or are doing something crazy?”. Jez replies “does running the full length of New Zealand off road count as crazy?”.The poor girl couldn’t take it all in, and was then looking rather flustered!

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I was in town for less than hour, most of that time in the café, and by that time I was definitely ready to move on. The Glendhu Bay Track took me round Lake Wanaka on a deceptively challenging trail,and then I was at the trailhead for the impressive Motatapu Alpine Track, a recently formed route traversing across to Macetown. It was classified as ‘hard tramping’ and it was, but definitely more pleasant that other hard tramping sections which I have felt to be somewhat on the cruel side! I set off with my fast pack at about 4pm after a good feed up from James, the plan being to simply see howfar I could go before feeling like crashing, at one of the three huts en route. Well the first, Fern Burn,was too early, but also full of a large family with kids so probably not that suitable anyway. I continued, and soon made the decision to sleep at Highland Creak.

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The climb over Jack Hall’s Saddle to get there was memorable. The hills felt special and unique,almost folded and rippling with many spurs. Highland Creek is a brand new twelve bed hut, and I wasmore than excited on the approach, as it’s the first newer hut I’ve been fortunate enough to stay at. I noticed footprints en route, so I suspected someone else would be there (shock horror, a fellow tramper). I had also been left a ‘Trail Magic’ gift at Fern Burn Hut – a snickers bar. Someone knew Iwas on the way…. It was a fellow brit and through hiker – Kyle – a really great guy. We had a great evening chatting and sharing trail stories before crashing for an early night. Unfortunately it wasn’t agreat night’s sleep; the local mob of possums decided they would raid the outside of the hit. They were charging up and down the roof and verandah causing a right old racket, so Kyle did the honor sand went outside and chased the blighters off!

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We both got an early start; a 4.30am alarm for 5.30am on the trail. I was hoping to get plenty of distance behind me before it got really hot, and they strategy worked well. There were five 500m(vertical) climbs to negotiate, every one of them testing me significantly given the steepness. I’m finding that whilst I can still climb, the built up fatigue in my legs is slowing me down, so a bit more patience than usual is required. It was an impressive, albeit rather intense route, with the final section being down the bed of the Arrow River. Given how hot it was that was my preferred place to be, and when I found some deep pools I took a full on swim. Heaven. The end of the track was Macetown. I don’t know what I was expecting because I knew it was an un-inhabited ex-mining town, but there really was no one there apart from some speculative weekend gold hunters! For some reason I set my heart on a museum, or a random shop, or anything, please! All I needed was a cold can of coke and an ice cream. No, it was inaccessible by all but 4x4s, and eerily quiet. I stopped for a quick sandwich, but decided not to delay the inevitable final stretch of super-hot hill climbing on the aptly named Big Hilltrack, to finally get me back to civilization in Arrowtown.

It was the hottest of the lot, a battle of the mind to get up there, with my body just wanting to rest in the shade. But a lovely reward at the end,with a stunning contouring section of singletrack before a final descent to Arrowtown.It was a relief to get back to the van, but everyone was baking hot, not least me. I had a good feedand a rest for a while, catching up with the team, and telling them all about my 24hours of excitementin the hills. I wanted to get some more kilometers in before the close of the day, despite it already being late afternoon, and my body not being particularly enthused. But it wasn’t as bad as feared (itnever is), and once I got going I successfully knocked out 17 more kilometers to help the totals.

Tomorrow I will run a mega-long lakeside section from our overnight location at Frankton, to Glenorchy, where we will launch for our final paddle of the trip, a crossing of Lake Wakatipu. Another big day lies ahead…..

February 4, 2013

“The Finish Line”

Start: Riverton (2,988km)
Finish: Bluff (3,054km)
Distance for the day: 68km
Cumulative distance: 3,054km
Distance to Bluff: 0km

At 1601hrs on Saturday February 2nd 2013 after, 53 days 9 hours and 1 minute setting from Cape Reigna, I finally completed my long journey down the Te Araroa trail, arriving in Bluff – lands end on the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. Gathered there waiting were my crew, Mark & James, my wife Gemma, my mum and my mother-in-law, Hilary.

Damiano from the Storyteller Collective was there capturing the moment on photo and video, just has he done so magnificently throughout the expedition. They sprayed me with champagne and we danced around the landmark yellow finger post like we’d just won the lottery. There were bystanders around too, probably wondering what the heck was going on, but none of us gave a hoot. It was raw emotion for me; all my heart and soul, sweat and tears, had been put into realizing this moment, and it almost happened too suddenly to take it all in. I’ve been a robotic state for most of the time since I started – in my own little bubble – and I think it’s going to take several days to snap out of it. My body is also going to want to know what the heck is going on when I don’t run tomorrow; so I think some wind down jogging/ walking is going to be important.

So how did the day unfold? Well in the usual manner really. A 5am alarm call felt a wee bit harsh as we had all been up late last night – I only got in from the trail at 9.30pm – but there was a nice buzz in the air from the thought of the finish. It was exciting to think about the day ahead, but that doesn’t make it any easier to get out the campervan door with so much cumulative fatigue in my legs, not to mention the mental tiredness. But once out, and 10 minutes or so up the road, everything started to warm up and then we were away. The sky this morning was incredible, the colors rich and colorful, before the sun eventually rose from the sea and brought the day to life. Once through Riveton, the route was straight on to the beach for 25km around a nicely curved, sandy bay, and it was a lovely spell for solitude and reflection which was exactly what I needed after many weeks of relentless and intense running. The running was far from easy with a mixture of sand and shingle, but I felt strong from thoughts of the finish and kept moving on at decent pace.

From the end of the beach it was on to the road all the way through to the outskirts of Bluff, skirting to the west of Invercargill, most of it on the shoulder of Highway 1. It wasn’t all that much fun and the tarmac was unforgiving underfoot, causing further soreness in my feet and ankles. But the soreness wasn’t really occupying my thoughts, it was more occupied with thoughts about finishing. I had music on the go to help switch off, but it seemed to bring on regular emotional streaks where I was breaking into tears. I’ve said before that this run has worn me down and exposed my inner emotions, and there were so many examples of that today.

By lunchtime at 1.15pm I had 50km under my belt, and thoughts of a mid-afternoon finish were starting to get muted. I didn’t really stop long for lunch, I just wanted to get the job done, so it was straight back on the road through to the outskirts of Bluff. So all that was left was a 7km stretch of trail around the Bluff peninsula to the Stirling Point fingerpost, the official finish to the trail. The first 3km of this section was rough running through long grass from marker post to marker post, but then I hit the millennium trail, and nicely graded gravel track leading all the way to the finish. It was a real blast. No tomorrow to save myself for, nothing to lose, no reason to hold back. But no time to really prepare myself for stopping; that’s the bit which is going to feel very strange.

We’re now sitting in the communal room of Bluff campsite, sharing photos, drinking cider and beer, and starting to reflect and share the memories. Where do you start? I’ve spent 53 days reflecting, and now I need time to reflect. Work that one out – very strange. But one thing I know I will be doing for sure is taking a week’s holiday with my wonderfully supportive wife. I feel like the luckiest man alive….

It’s hardly suffice, but just initially I want to say a massive thank you to my incredible support guys, James and Mark. They have given up nine weeks of their life to support me with this expedition and words can’t express how grateful I am to them both for what they have done. It is with great sadness that this team will split up from tomorrow – it really has been an incredible team effort – I have just been fronting it.

I hope to share some of my reflections about the expedition as a whole over the coming days. I too don’t want it to stop, so I will get a few more posts out.

And finally a big thank you to everyone who has followed my journey and provided so many supportive comments and feedback. I hope you have enjoyed it all as much as I have.

February 4, 2013

Jez Bragg – Completes the Te Araroa Trail

6a00d834f4a66953ef017d40c4ec64970c-800wiAfter 53 days of running Jez Bragg completed his historic journey down the Te Araroa trail!  He sent us these reports from his last two days.

Days 52: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) to Riverton
Start: Merrivale Road (Longwood Forest) (2,924km)
Finish: Riverton (2,988km)
Distance for the day: 64km
Cumulative distance: 2,988km
Distance to Bluff: 66km

I guess in golfing or football terms, today was the chip on to the green, or the cross into the box. I completed the tough Longwood Forest section, hit the coast, and started the final part of my journey east/ south east towards Bluff. In doing so I have set myself up for a potential finish tomorrow – yippee!

We started the day just inside Longwood Forest, a dense and mature forest of mainly beech, and it wasn’t until 5pm this afternoon that I finally got out. It did make me feel rather trapped, but I coped reasonably well.

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The forest runs north to south in a long thin strip, covering a rolling set of hills and (of course) the Te Araroa route follows the ridge and the high ground. The tops of the hills are mostly exposed which is great for the views, but not so great for moving at any kind of decent pace because they’re covered in tussocks and spiky cactus type plants. My ankles were sore all day, and the unevenness of the ground was one of the greatest challenges.

I guess I set about the forest task in a rather business-like fashion, focusing on getting the job done, or perhaps I’m just turning into a running robot – that was another thought I had out on the trail! But I was pretty chilled out and moved at a brisk, but not ground braking, pace to make the crossing.

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The guys had very helpfully recced accessed points yesterday, so we had a couple of meeting points for food and drink re-supply planned, to help break up the 50km section. However the sections were still long, and it was another warm one, so I probably wasn’t eating and drinking as much as I should have been. The first in the series of peaks on the route was Bald Hill, and I was up there for about 8am, rewarded with some wonderful views of the South Island’s south coast and my first glimpse of the end point, Bluff. When I caught that view I paused and the emotions started coming, so I quickly started running again!

The last section of Longwood was both bizarre and amazing. Constructed by the Chinese gold miners in the late 19th Century, the perfectly benched track follows a precise contour, and in doing so snakes in and out of all spurs, river cut outs and re-entrants in a quite incredible fashion. Talk about a convoluted way to get from A to B, however I’m sure they had their reasons for constructing it in that manner. Now somewhat dilapidated and overgrown, it offers a great walking route and is a fascinating part of Te Araroa.

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I eventually popped out at the Round Hill car park around 5pm, with the crossing having taken 11 hours – a long day already. But to set up a potential finish tomorrow I really wanted to get close to 65km as a total, so I quickly decided to run the 18km leg around Colac Bay and over the headland to Riverton, to achieve that total. After a few glitches navigating the final section I arrived at the overnight stop about 9.30pm, some 15.5 hours after I set off this morning. Another big day with some seriously tough terrain – that’s the ‘hard tramping for you…..

I’m not going to lie, I was seriously tempted to run all through the night in an attempt to finish the trail at the earliest opportunity, but I came to the conclusion that my swollen feet and ankles are just not up to that, and they need a proper rest before finishing the job tomorrow. So it will be up at 5am for a 6am start with 66km to go until I reach Bluff.

Tomorrow is going to be one seriously special – and I suspect emotional – day. I can’t wait.

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