MARCH 11, 2012

As soon as my entry to Routeburn was confirmed I bought a book on trail running online then went to Rebel Sport and got some trail running shoes and a camelbak.

When it comes to running on anything other than asphalt and concrete, I am a virgin. I have always been a street strider, a pavement pounder, a footpath fella. I’ve also been known to go overboard with alliteration.

This trail running was going to take a bit more foreward planning than what I was used to. I’d have to drive to a start point rather than just lace up and go but I found the idea of that quite exciting.

I Googled trail runs in theAucklandarea then loosely planned a run the next morning out at a place called Woodhill forest, about a 20 minute drive from home.

I drove out early the next morning. As soon as I hit the part of the road where I was surrounded by towering pine trees I knew I was at my destination. I had no idea really of what I was doing or where exactly I was going. I’m sure there is a big car park and proper entry point somewhere that trail runners know and use but I sure as hell didn’t know where that place was. Plus, I’m a runner. I like the freedom and spontaneity of taking a new road or changing my mind on a whim if I so please.

So as soon as I saw an entry point into the forest from the main road I parked up on the gravel bay alongside it.

The plan was simple. I was just going to run out for 10km then turn around and go back again. Just a nice easy 20km in a brand new environment.

With my brand new Camelpak on and my earbuds in I started running while listening to a new album I had loaded onto my iPhone from a band called The Black Keys.

I was in heaven. Immediately I could see what the fuss was all about. I have never found road running boring, this seems to be a complaint that most trail runners have. But there was no doubt that road running was pretty mundane compared to this!

I ripped through the 10km, sipping on water from time to time from my hydration system. “Was I supposed to wash this out before using it?” I wondered. It was the most rubbery tasting water I’ve ever had.

But that was of little concern. I was running with a smile. I had it all-

Great music, a soft surface to run on, beautiful smells of Christmas trees all around me, no cars reversing out of driveways.

In fact, I felt like I had this entire forest all to myself. I pretty much did. I did not come across another human being.

I turned around to run back to my car and that is when I had my, “oh shit, you are an idiot” moment. By the way, I have these moments fairly often so it did not come as any great surprise to me or anyone who knows me.

You see, on the 10km run out I had avoided taking any of the un-signposted turn offs. I thought that if I just run out on one road I will just be able to run back the same way. But this is where the problem lies- on the way back these forks on the forest road all looked the same so it was impossible to tell which road I had run down earlier and which was the turn off.

I suppose this is a perk of road running- there are always landmarks to help you get home.

I ran along the forest trying to stick to the same road I covered earlier. I was not panicking at all. I was confident I was on the same track. And I was still enjoying the experience and the views.

Then, the inevitable happened. I got to 19km and started to accept that my internal compass had failed me. I kept running in the same direction anyway, just in case. But sure enough I got to 20km and my car was nowhere insight. I was deep in the middle of the forest.

I took my headphones off and listened for cars. If I could hear cars it would suggest the road is nearby. I heard nothing. The pure silence was terrifying. I switched on my iPhone and thought the mapping and GPS apps may help me out- no signal. At this point I think I said a sentence out loud, one rather offensive word over and over five times.

I turned around and ran back hoping to see a turn off that looked vaguely familiar. NOTHING. It was all the same- ferns, gravel, pine trees.

I was getting tired now. 20km would be my longest run of the year so far in my build up to Routeburn. I was not really equipped or prepared for anything more than 20.

After 26km of running, thinking, analysing turn offs and listening for sounds, I came to a solution. From a high peak I could seeAucklandsky tower far in the distance (thank god for inner city, man-made landmarks!!). From seeing the tower I knew which direction I had to run in to eventually make it back to the road (and hopefully my bloody car). The plan worked….kind of.

I eventually hit the road then had to guess if my car would be to the left or the right. I sensed it would be the right so started jogging and walking in that direction. By now my watch read 29km. I was rooted. I told myself that at 30km I would stop admit utter defeat and stop in the first farm house I ran past to ask for assistance.

Fortunately, it did not come to that! One more hill, one more blind bend and there my car was. I have never been so happy to see a 7 year old Ford Territory with high mileage in all my life.

Since then, I have been doing any off road stuff around Corwell park (One tree hill). There is a 6km lap around the outskirts of the park which is all off road. Its giving me some trail experience with no chance of getting myself into a hopeless Bear Grylls situation.

From the more experienced I would love to know what to do here- whats the scret? How do you know you are on the right track? I thought maybe I should take some coloured clothes pegs and drop one every couple of k’s? Is that a good idea or just plain embarrassing? Love to know your thoughts and methods: Dom@theedge.co.nz