In February of 2016, I went to Costa Rica to run a 6 day stage race called the Coastal Challenge. When it came time to take the plunge and register for the race, I hesitated. After thinking about it, I realized the only reason I was hesitating was because of fear; the fear that comes with traveling to a foreign country alone. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This is a quote by Mary Oliver that has resonated with me for some time. It is a question that I find myself asking, even more so since I turned 40 years of age. And fear was definitely not a reason I was going to accept. So I registered for the Coastal Challenge. I ultimately ended up going with two friends and having an experience I will never forget. But was prepared to go alone.
One year later, I traveled to New Zealand to run the Tarawera 102 km race. This time I traveled alone and I did not hesitate when I registered for the race. There was still some fear involved, but this year I was determined to not let it deter me from making this adventure happen. There are certain dreams, certain places in life, that for some reason you hold close; and traveling to New Zealand was one of them. Not sure why I had put it off for so long – maybe I was waiting for the right time?
I flew into Auckland, NZ and was immediately presented with my first and biggest fear that I had; driving on the left side of the road. As with all races, you make friends along the way. And fortunately, I got in contact with some other runners that made the drive with me from Auckland to Rotorua. “Just stay to the left,” is what I was told. Seems simple enough, right? “You’ll get used to it.” These were all comforting words. And that I did; I got used to driving on the left side of the road, with the windshield wipers only coming on for sudden turns. (Not only do you drive on the left side of the road, but you sit on what is normally the passenger side of the vehicle. And the blinker sits on the right side of the steering wheel, with the windshield wipers on the left.)
The Tarawera Ultra Marathon takes place in Rotorua, New Zealand (on the north island). There are several distances, including a 62 km, 87 km and 102 km race. It is also part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, which is a group of races that began with the UTMB and Marathon des Sables. The Tarawera 102 km race is point to point, running from Rotorua to Kawerau. It certainly did not disappoint, as the single track trails took me through some of the most beautiful, dense forest terrain that I have seen. As with all ultra distance races, presenting yourself with a challenge and then meeting that challenge is what draws you. But there are certain races that make you want to come back and endure the pain again. This was one of those races. Not only was the terrain breathtaking, but it was clear the amount of love and passion that went into planning this race. The race organizer, race director, and all the volunteers made me feel like I became a part of a family. And I definitely want to go back!
After the race was over, it was time to switch gears and travel to other parts of the north island. I drove about 130 miles north to Coromandel, on the Coromandel Peninsula. Now this was the true test of my driving skills. I was not only alone, but the latter half of this drive took me along some narrow, winding roads along the western coast of the peninsula. I spent 3 days on the Coromandel Peninsula, exploring more trails and getting in a little beach time. Then I traveled back to Auckland for the last few days of my journey.
New Zealand is an extraordinary and wondrous place. It was a trip that was long overdue. While I would have also enjoyed making the journey with a companion, there is something to traveling alone. You can move at your own pace, and experience life on your own terms. Yeah, it can be a little scary. And sure, it comes with the challenge of facing those terms head on. But in the end, it’s worth the risk. So, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?