A runner's tears of pride

Last updated 10:30 31/03/2014
Tarawera ultramarathon

GOAL ACHIEVED: Despite a qurstionable choice in runnig shorts, Matt Colville 'knocked off' his 60km running race.

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'Reluctant runner' Matt Colville shared his couch to long-distance runner story with Stuff readers in February. Now he's back with tales from his latest achievement.

So. I did it.

Despite a two-month forced training holiday due to injury, near crippling anxiety and a tropical cyclone, I ran the 59 kilometre Tarawera Ultramarathon.

I honestly didn't know if I'd make it to the finish. Shin splints and calf strains had side-lined me from training, and I mainly decided to go and do the bloody thing because I'd already paid for it, and a couple of people expressed their doubts that I'd make it.

That pissed me off. So naturally I had to go.

We arrived in Rotorua on Friday March 14. The announcement was made that due to the impending cyclone, the 100km and 85km races would be shortened to 70 kilometres. This must have been an agonising decision, but the right one I think, safety wise.

My race would stay at 60km, but I'd have to do the hardest part twice!

We lined up in the dark; 6am on Saturday morning.

I was a bundle of nerves and kind of wishing I hadn't come.

But when the hooter finally went, and 800 odd runners took off, I realised I was here now, that I was doing it, that I must accept the things I cannot change. And I started to enjoy it!

I must admit, too, it was pretty cool being recognised from a previous Stuff article about running. I kind of felt like a celebrity, albeit a D-grade one.

The first 21km was OK. I walked every hill and ran the flats and downs. I took it easy. At 36km, when we hit the aid station, I was definitely ready to scoff some Coke and lollies and have a sit down.

When a race official told me I had to run two kilometres past the aid station then two back before I could rest, my smile vanished and I very nearly swore at him. That was a massive psychological blow for me and I honestly felt like quitting.

I think I walked most of those four kilometres.

Anyway, I made it to 40km, had a feed and talk to my devoted partner, and took off again. The last 20km was gruelling.

The uphill I walked every step of, the flat and downs I walked a fair bit of too. I was buggered; my legs felt like jelly.

I made it to the last aid station with 2.6kms to go.

I ran every step home. I was euphoric and felt like I could run for miles; it's funny what the mind can let you do when it knows you're going to rest soon. I ran through the finish grinning like an idiot.

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I promptly threw my toys a bit when I realised my partner has missed my glorious finish by seconds - the poor girl had been waiting in the rain for 40 minutes with our baby (in his waterproof pram) and had dashed off to grab a jacket from the car. I had had visions of a slow motion reunion and kiss, and holding my infant son above me triumphantly. But alas, it was not to be.

And fair enough too, it was a wet and miserable day for spectators, and I am absurdly grateful that my beautiful family were there in support.

I was never in to win.

The fact that I finished, and the people I met, that's what made the race for me. Everyone was so supportive; the volunteers were beautiful people, positive and helpful. My fellow runners were polite, kind, supportive, cheerful. Even the elite athletes, who screamed past me in a blur, would yell out "Going well, mate!" as they flashed by. I kind of assumed they'd just grunt and push me outta the way.

In short, the occasion restored my faith in humanity. That we're not all self-obsessed, hyper-competitive, solipsistic semi-rational animals; that we can be competitive and want to do well, be successful, even win, but still be good to each other along the way.

All except one 'witty' guy who mocked my choice of running shorts several times. Okay, they were board shorts/togs. And ok, they were predominantly white, and thus became transparent in the rain. But still, most people commented favourably! My one heckler seemed to think his comments on said shorts being comparable to underwear was a high point of intellectual comedic genius.

I have to admit too, that there were some lovely views along the way. Oh, the scenery was nice and all, the lakes, trees etc.

But more importantly, now and then I'd meet (be passed by) a startlingly sleek and attractive member of the opposite sex, and my spirits and vitality would lift, if only for a short while. So thanks, ladies. (By the way, I asked permission before writing this).

It's now nearly two weeks since the race and I feel OK. For a few days I was pretty sore, and a bit grumpy.

But all-in-all I feel great, because here's the thing: those last two or three kilometres? I was almost bawling as I ran. Not for sadness or grief, but for joy, and pride, because I'd done it. I'd knocked the bastard off, as it were.

Because life, as we all know, is hard. Life can be a bloody threshing machine. And when I ran those last few kilometres to the finish, I realised finally that I was going to succeed, and that I was successful. Despite all the obstacles, the agonising pain and suffering, I kept on, and I did it. The Buddhists would say it is only when we accept that life is suffering, that we transcend the pain. And that's what I did. I knew it would hurt, and I kept on anyway.

I want to give a massive shout out to my mate Paul, who clocked a healthy time for the 70 kilometre race, for getting me off the couch and running a year or so ago.

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