If you love trails and this event is not on your bucket list – it needs to be!! (and fast too as it will get harder and harder to get an entry as the secret gets out!). Old Ghost Ultra has been on my bucket list since it first started in 2016. The trail is an 85km resurrected old gold miners trail and all race proceeds go to maintaining the trail. The event is self-qualifying and the description really had me doubting if I could make the cut-offs (despite having several 100km ultras under my belt in fairly decent times) as I know NZ trails can be tough. However, after much trail chat with a friend who has completed it every year I was confident I could give it a go and I did!!!
I was super excited when friend and fellow RMA Breanna Coleman made her way from over 100th on the waitlist steadily up to the top and scored a late entry. Running and travelling is always better with friends! We road tripped on Thursday afternoon from my home town of Christ Church across the gorgeous Arthurs Path, a quick stop at the Pancake Rocks and onto Westport to join some of the Squadrun crew at the University field station where we were staying. Friday was rainy and spent tapering/team bonding doing a huge jigsaw puzzle, followed by dinner at local pub and then the best race briefing ever.
Saturday morning we piled onto buses from 4am and were off to the start line where we joined the toilet line (glad we got an early bus!), checked in, did some mandatory selfies and before we knew it we were off into the darkness on the trail. I knew we had a bit of space to self seed before the single track and I was careful to try and find the right pace (I had completed Shotover Moonlight Marathon the week before so my legs weren’t so fresh!). My headlight started to flash and I was kicking myself for not replacing the batteries after it had bumped itself on in my pack the day before. I knew we only had about an hour before daylight so figured it would be ok! I also didn’t want to stop and mess around changing them so I just kept running (It also dawned on me I had three spare batteries not the four that my headlamp needed, OMG, what was I thinking??) and turned it off in the lighter sections to save the battery for the darker sections taking it easy. Before long we were heading into the first checkpoint at Speciman Point at 17km, a quick jump for the photographer, another toilet stop, thank the vollies and trek on through!
I knew from the course profile the next section to CP2 at 42km at Stern Valley had some uphills before we descended into the checkpoint. They were enough for regular walk breaks (that eventually got longer). This section had some of NZ’s typical amazing views, lots of bridges and like a lot of the trail was quite hard underfoot (we were on a mountain after all). We had dropbags at CP2 that they had helicoptered in for us (as the trail is so remote, there is no road access), I unloaded some rubbish from my pack, grabbed an icy poppa, eyed up the Jim Beam on the check point table, decided against it and headed off.
The next section up to Ghost Lake Hut was only 12 or so km but I knew it had the most climbing. It also had the most incredible views!! The trail has some great signposted names for certain spots, we had passed Lake Grim and Solemn Saddle before we hit CP2 and heading up to CP3 we passed many others such as the Skyline Ridge, The Tombstone and Heavens Door.
I knew there were stairs and I was excited to finally reach and climb them and couldn’t wait for the views at the top!!. There was a lot of switchbacks and you often couldn’t see where the trail went after it turned (which was probably a good thing!!). When I first saw CP3 it did seem very difficult to get to (and far away!) but before long, another photographer and as I saw him, I said, ok, I better run so gave a jog and then last minute decided another jump shot was in order.
Coming into CP3 at 55km
It was getting warm but nothing on Brisbane Summer and humidity so I was pretty comfortable leaving CP3 knowing that the final 26km was downhill. It was beautifully runnable and I just let the legs roll however I was surprised when garmin was clicking over quite slowly – I was flying wasn’t I?? Thankfully the trail has permanent markers every 1km so I soon realised that I was actually moving slightly faster than garmin thought! (ha!) I managed to pass a few people on this section, barely stopping at the last checkpoint and really looking forward to the finish. Before I knew it, I was crossing another bridge and through the trees was the finish! I was so excited, one final jump for joy, receive my medal and off to the beer tent (well before cut-off and having to worry about the headlamp issue!)!!
Summary – fantastic day, fantastic course, amazing vollies and organising team. 2020 entries open on 1st June – what are you waiting for???