copyright Jamie Ashwell
November 13th 2012 seems such a long time ago… New Zealand House in London and a press conference organized by The North Face to announce Jez Bragg’s 3000 + km journey along the Te Araroa – ‘The Long Pathway’ in New Zealand.
INTERVIEW available from the press conference HERE
With a departure date of Dec 4th and a start date of Dec 12th, Jez’s journey was always going to be an epic. But this was no ordinary journey. An addition to running from the tip of the north island to Bluff at the bottom of the south island, Jez would also cross all water sections by his own power.
His crew of Mark Taylor (father in law) and Jamie Ashwell (long term friend) as you can imagine have been integral to the success of this journey. Mark is an experienced Kayaker and this would provide great support for Jez in the water crossings. In particular, the crossing of the Cook Strait.
Jamie is a dab hand in the kitchen and knows Jez well. As Jez said on numerous occasions “you need the people around you to understand you. I will have lots of highs and lows on this epic journey”. The team housed in a modest camper van would be spending some 50+ days together living and breathing each others air.
Jez had the dream of running the Te Araroa when Paul Charteris, organizer of the Tarawera ultra in New Zealand mentioned it to him. It was approximately 3 years ago. The trail at that stage was not completed but with a proposed opening date of December 2011 Jez decided to pitch the idea for funding to The North Face. A key element of TNF backing is that each year they take ideas from sponsored athletes and discuss the pros and cons. Lizzy Hawker had benefited from this in the past with her Nepal crossing. With the idea submitted, Jez crossed his fingers… it worked! The idea was approved and it was all systems go.
Of course best-laid plans occasionally hit a glitch. With planning well underway and dates set, Jez and the team heard that Richard Bowles had started on the Te Araroa and planned to run the whole length… “these things happen and you can’t plan for it” said Jez “although Richard will now be the first person to run the whole trail it won’t be the same as mine. I will do this under my own power for the whole length and in addition, I plan to go for a fastest known time”
Mike Wolfe, fellow TNF teammate and respected ultra runner in his own right had also been brought into the mix. Initially the plan was for Mike to join Jez when he reached the south island and then pace and help him along as he battled the tougher sections of the course. When I caught up with Jez after his crossing of the Cook Strait and just as he started to run in the south he confirmed that Mike would no longer be joining him. Mike had been suffering with some injury and as desperate as he was to join Jez for that ‘lifetime’ journey he had to be sensible and hold back “Jez is killing it man” Mike said, “he is doing such an awesome job, I don’t think it’s getting enough attention. What Jez is doing is awesome. It breaks my heart to have to say no at this stage. Believe me I have labored over this decision”
You can listen to my interview with Jez just after he had crossed from north to south in episode 26 of Talk Ultra HERE go to 01:09:30
What is the Te Araroa?
Te Araroa – The Long Pathway – is a continuous 3,000 km walking track from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It is described on the official website as the ultimate 120 day New Zealand experience (Jez did it in 53 days).
The Te Araroa is a different kind of trail. Its boundaries are the natural boundaries of New Zealand. It links settlements, townships and cities. It has a multitude of experience on offer; cultural, natural and historic. Starting at the sea and finishing at the sea when en route you explore tombolos, volcanoes, mountains, rivers, lakes and valleys.
As Jez found out. It’s one seriously tough trail. He started by running for miles and miles along desolate beach. He was then on thick, muddy and gnarly trail. Sometimes going up, sometimes going down. He expressed “it is more of a route than a trail. A trail would imply that I have marked path but more often than not I am just trying to get across sections as best as I can. It is so difficult, incredibly beautiful but ultimately it has been like running in a jungle. It’s been tough!”
“I am amazed at what I have been eating” said Jez “I normally wouldn’t eat cooked breakfasts but Jamie has been incredible providing me with eggs and bacon in the morning. To be honest, I just can’t eat enough”. What is interesting that after a problematic early 2012 season and constant stomach issues, Jez found out he was gluten intolerant “once I knew, the transformation was remarkable, within just two weeks I was a changed person”
This dietary knowledge has been crucial in the success of this expedition. It was only a month or so before his December departure date that Jez had wondered if the journey would be possible.
“You can’t run without energy” Jez explained “when you don’t absorb the calories or when the calories you eat cause problems, you only have one solution, stop or find out what is wrong”
Jamie, armed with this knowledge has been able to make sure that Jez has had the food he needs in the quantities he needs and of course it has all been gluten free!
The ‘Tardis’ the modest camper van has been HQ for the whole trip providing a well needed bed for Jez and the team but very often Jez has camped wild or used huts to maximize time on the trail. Of course, The North Face has been instrumental in providing Jez with all the required kit to make this happen.
Although the plan for each day was not fixed in advance, a strategy was always formulated on the morning or the night before. Mark and Jamie would arrange to meet Jez on the trail at certain points to replenish supplies and provide support.
Everything would be ready allowing Jez to replenish or eat and then be back out on the trail asap. If Jez stayed out on the trail a pack would be prepared in advance – tent, clothes, sleeping bag, jetboil, food and most importantly a satellite phone.
Jez was married not long before he headed out to New Zealand. In addition to this, Christmas Day would be spent on some trail. Not an ideal way to start a new marriage? But Gemma seems to have thrived on seeing Jez achieve. She travelled out to New Zealand after Christmas and has been able to see the transformation in Jez. This transformation is physical, of course, she has seen the ravages of all those miles and the deficit in calories but the change will be one many of us won’t see. It is the change that will be within him. Nobody will know some of the personal battles and demons that Jez will have faced while putting one front in front of the other.
Mark my words; once Jez has recovered from this journey I think we will see a ‘new’ Jez on race start lines. All the accumulated miles and hours on the trail and the mental hardness will be transferred into winning performances.
Without doubt and I know Jez will be the first acknowledge this, that Mark, Jamie, Gemma and her mum, Hiliary have been an integral element of this whole journey. He may have been out on the trail running but the planning, support and backing has come from a camper van. Even down to home cooked food and homemade cakes.
53 days, 9 hours and 1 min. Job done! The previous record was 62 days set by Richard Bowles.
Jez initially had planned to complete the Journey by the end of January and he most certainly would have had had he not been hit with stomach issues on the south island. After a late finish, 3am! Jez had a fever. Understanding his body very well he knew he was in trouble. After resting and taking medication he finally responded but ultimately lost three days…
And I quote Jez:
“At a 1601hrs this afternoon, 53 days 9 hours and 1 minute after setting from Cape Regina, 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”
02nd February 2012 – I am scheduled to catch up with Jez as soon as possible. He is currently in New Zealand to the 7th and then will go to Thailand.
February 2nd 2013 recorded less than 1 day after Jez Bragg recorded the fastest time of 53 days 9 hours and 1 min for crossing The Long Pathway – Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand.
I think you can hear the emotion in his voice!
DOWNLOAD AND LISTEN HERE
Follow Jez on his blog HERE
The North Face HERE