Take it to the outer limits

00:18, Nov 30 2012

Summer's a pretty busy time, so books tend to be the first thing to go.

On the odd occasion I do lay my hands on a book and leap into bed ready for a luxurious bit of escapism, I fall asleep. Five minutes is about my limit, so every night I reread the bit I read the night before, in an effort to remember what it's all about.

This makes it all the more strange that in the past month, I've been able to work my way through two books that were slid to me across the desktop at work. Both were about individual sport, although I'd describe them more as being about exquisite torture.

Sport to me is about pleasure and satisfaction. I know the authors of both these books feel satisfaction, but pleasure? They're more about living on the outer edge, where pain and hallucination take over and the only pleasure is to stop.

Lisa Tamati is an ultra-marathon runner - a competitor in events where marathon leaves off. They're often held in extreme climates and conditions, making the challenge even more formidable.

Tamati explains why she does it: "When someone is challenged in such an extreme way, both mentally and physically, you get to see the true essence of that person. I think that's something a lot of us want to do - to get to that point in a race . . . where we've got nothing left to give, but we somehow manage to pull something out of ourselves to keep going. That's what most of us want to find out. Have we got that in us? Can we push it that little bit harder? What mettle are we made of?"


In her book Running To Extremes, Tamati describes her journey, starting with the question: "Why do you do it?"

She introduces the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 217-kilometre race in Death Valley in mid-July, where temperatures rise above 49 degrees C in the shade.

The urge to do something personal and unique led her to run the length of New Zealand in 2009, raising money for Curekids, a children's charity.

She describes the Gobi March - a 250km event in China - the Four Deserts Run in the Sahara, some New Zealand and Australian ultra events, and finally La Ultra, 222km at high altitude in the Himalayas.

These are not treks with sleeps in a nice bed every night, but endurance races, where sleep is snatched whenever and wherever, and every step becomes a test of spirit.

The other book I've just finished is Ride, in which Josh Kench describes his transition from a 29-year-old plumber who drank and smoked into one of an elite band of cyclists accepted to ride in the Race Across America, a 4828km ride across the United States in 12 days (that's 400km a day - much like a daily ride from Nelson to Christchurch).

It started with a bit of bravado, when Kench announced at his brother's wedding that he was going to do the Coast to Coast, which he did.

Eight years later, he won the Taupo Extreme Enduro - eight laps of the 160km Taupo race.

The book describes the trials and tribulations of endurance bike riding - the training, the battles with sponsors, the strain on relationships, and most of all the pain of the long rides.

Both books focus on the setting and achievement of goals and the empowerment that brings. But the message in both is that nothing is achieved alone.

Any ultra event requires a dedicated crew who are prepared to put their own goals on hold, and the crew can make the difference between success and failure.

In the end, all sports are like that, and those who take part in them are only as good as the people who give them support.