I’m Lucy and I like to go on epic adventures. I’ve run 3,000km across NZ in 66 days; cycled the length of the UK and travelled through Europe and the USA. Let’s go on an adventure together!
Some people dream about them.
I live for them.
I’m that friend who you joke with about doing something crazy, but then actually attempts to do it.
I am happiest when I’m sweaty and tired in the mountains. I like trying to find my limit, then pushing past it.
I’m stubborn like a mule and have a fear of failure, but I’m trying to get past that.
In 2014, I cycled the length of the UK with my husband. That’s over 3200kms in just 19 days.
I’ve backpacked for 7 months across Europe & the USA.
In 2019, I ran the length of New Zealand along the Te Araroa Trail.
That’s 3,000km in one hit. I am the first Australian woman to have ever run it and set the fastest know time (FKT) for a female by completing it in 66 days and 7 hours.
And I’m not done. I have many more crazy adventures rattling around in my head!
I’m also a qualified run coach and love helping others achieve their goal - whether it’s a 5km, a marathon or a 66 day long run!
Wanna find out more or just say hi? I’d love to hear from you! Get in touch at email@example.com or hit me up on social media.
Tighten your laces – let’s go an an adventure!
After our magical week in Switzerland, we headed just over the border into France. First stop, Disneyland Paris.
Chamonix is, as I am sure many of you already know, a popular ski resort and despite it not being ski season, it was a hive of activity. We arrived early afternoon and walked a sweaty 30 minutes to our cool hostel just outside the main town. As we were starving, we returned into town for an early dinner.
Chamonix is an outdoor enthusiasts dream. There is every single possible outdoor shop available and fit people milling around everywhere. We can only imagine what it would be like in winter and are kicking ourselves for not paying it a visit whilst we were living in London. We accidentally coincided our visit with the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. The UTMB consists of 5 races, with the main one being the 168 km solo run which has numerous sections of high altitude (>2500m). The winner usually completes it in around 20 hours. Crazy people or what!?
We were quite excited to get out and explore on the following day however Mother Nature had other plans for us. She decided to literally rain on our parade…and rain…and rain…and rain. It rained from when we woke up (8am) until around 6pm that night, and as a result, we did not leave the hostel. Instead we read our books, watched a movie and played scrabble (where I continued my reign but beating Tom convincingly again. Lucy 2. Tom 0). However we did go a little stir crazy and when it finally stopped raining, ran into town to buy supplies for DIY raclette.
If you have not had raclette, you need to get it in your life. It is a traditional Swiss dish whereby you have a plate of steamed potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions and you smother it with melted raclette cheese. Many restaurants were advertising it for around €20+ pp but we simply bought the ingredients and did it ourselves. The result was a huge cheesy feast costing €10 and giving us both belly aches the next morning.
After Chamonix, we left for a small town called Saint-Pierre d’Albigny where we met our friends, Cath and Ross. These crazy cats were competing in another ultra-marathon called L’echappee belle. There are two races - 85 km or 145km, both which cross the Belledonne mountains. As they are pretty hardcore, both Ross and Cath are doing the 145km race. The current record is around 31 hours.
Tom and I were a welcome distraction for Cath and Ross and we took our distraction task serious. We mainly did this through drinking lots of red wine, eating loads of crisps, going for a 2 hour walk directly up a hill and then back down after realising there were zero views to be seen, completing an ice bucket challenge and encouraging their carbo loading efforts by paying a visit to the local McDonalds. It was fantastic to see them both and very inspiring to see them prepare for this insane race.
We saw them off at 2am this morning (The race starts at 6am but they had to catch a bus to the start line) and are eagerly checking the website to see their progress.
And now Tom and I head off to Annecy to enjoy our last couple of days in France eating baguettes, cheese and generally any white carbohydrate available.
Packing for an overseas trip is hard, let alone packing to run t run for 66 days across a country. So where did I start?!
First I did a brain dump of everything I could possibly think of that I might need. And then I googled the hell out of “Kit for Te Araroa” and compared my lists to everyone else’s list and added on anything I missed. Google. Add. Google. Add.
Ofcourse, this isn’t a fool proof method. There were things I forget or didn’t realise I needed until I was knee deep in the adventure. There are also plenty of things that I lugged across the country with me that I never used!
So what did I actually use in NZ? Let me break it down for you.
Probably my most important piece of kit. I started wearing Hoka One One shoes in July 2019. My feet were getting sore from running 100+ kms a week and I needed a more protection. My coach recommended Hoka and I haven’t looked back!
I took nine pairs over with me which mean I always had dry shoes. I came back to Aus with four pairs.
Hoka Torrents: My go to shoes for trail running. Grippy, light but still provide protection. I wore these for majority of the off-road sections.
Hoka Evo Mafate: For the more gnarly and aggressive trails where I need some serious grip, like going through the Ratea Forest.
Hoka Challengers: More cushioning and an easy, comfortable ride for cruisy trails and road. I wore these on sections where there was a mixture of trail and road.
Hoka Rincon: Light weight and cushioned - it was a dream to put these on! Worn for the road sections.
Outdoor Research Helium II Waterproof Jacket: Used/carried when running on road and there was rain forecast. However for torrential rain or overnight trips I used the Macpac Prophet jacket (below).
MacPac Lightweight Prophet Pertex® Rain Jacket: Amazing jacket. Waterproof for eight hours, great hood which actually keeps the rain out and loads of pockets. In the mountains, this was my fav piece of kit.
MacPac Hightail Pertex Rain Pant: Fit well (especially for running), super light and packs down super small. I tried on loads of different brands and most had a weird crotch. Easily the best pair I tried.
Macpac Pulsar Plus PrimaLoft® Hooded Jacket: Amazingly warm and packs down pretty small too. Didn’t wear this on the trail but I wore it pretty much every evening after I finished running.
T-shirts: Various running t-shirts and long sleeve tops.
2XU Compression Shorts: Love these shorts. Don’t ride up, comfy and helped me avoid chafe!
2XU Calf Sleeves: Wore these alot in the South Island to protect my legs from the dreaded Spear Grass which literally tear up your legs. Also protected me from mud which caused skin irritation.
2XU Arm Sleeves: Great to have handy to add some warmth without having to take my pack off.
Injinji Toe Socks: I started off in normal merino socks but got three blisters on day one! As soon as I moved to these socks, I didn’t get another blister. I will wear toe socks for every single race from now on!
Le Bent Midweight Crew and Lightweight Bottom: Worn at night during overnight hut stays. Comfy and warm.
Various buffs, hats and visors.
Backpack & vests
Nathan VaporHowe 12L: I thought I would wear a number of different sized Nathan packs but I ended up wearing the 12L the entire time. It is designed for women so it was super comfy (zero chafe!) and had lots of storage to fit all my kit in (waterproofs, first-aid, food) plus a 1.6L bladder. It has a handy zip pocket on the chest which was perfect for my phone. Love, love, LOVE this vest.
Macpac Fiord 28L : Used for overnight stays in huts where I have to carry my sleep system (minus tent) plus lots of food! Comfortable bag with lots of storage, including outer pockets which kept my food and phone handy. Also has an option to extend for another 7L. My only complaint was there wasn’t any easy way to get the bladder in/out of the pack to fill it up - I had to unpack it every time. But it only took a couple of mins so no biggie.
Sea To Summit Spark SPII Sleeping Bag
Sea To Summit Silk liner
Sea To Summit Ultralight Sleeping Mat
Leki Trail Vario Poles: These change height so I can adjust for up and downhill. I love the shark grip. Makes life a lot easier and also meant I didn’t lose my poles when I stacked it in a river.
Spot Tracker: To track my every move and allowed me to send msgs to Tom if I was running late to meet him (so he didn’t freak out). It also has an emergency button in case something major happened, which thankfully it didn’t. But it is always better to be safe than sorry!
Soek Sunglasses: A range of designs coz a girl gotta look good on the trails.
Black Diamond Spot 325 headlamp: Has good lumens (80m), is lightweight and fully waterproof.
Moxie Gaiters: I had both the ankle and shin gaiters. I wore the ankle gaiters for the days in the mountains to keep out mud and sticks. I only used the shin gaiters once - I preferred my calf sleeves which were a little lighter
First aid kit
Water sanitising tablets
Prior to starting, Tommy and I had a food plan which we based on what I ate during training. Our thought process was focus on fatty and carb calorie dense foods during the day and prioritise veggies in the evenings.
Below is the list of my “go to” foods:
· Breaky: Eggs, bacon and avocado with bagel. COFFEE!!
· Lunch: Peanut butter and jam sandwiches, ham and cheese croissants
· Dinner: Spag bolognaise or risotto with veggies.
· Snacks: Clif Bar and Bloks, bananas, chips, nuts, lollies, cheese, salami.
Unfortunately, we discovered this went completely out the window once I started. I could not stand the sight of eggs. I went completely off coffee, tomatoes and bananas. I found meat hard to stomach with the exception of salami and sausages. I developed a huge craving for oranges and pineapple - they were pretty much the only fruit I ate the entire trip. So, we had to pivot.
We went to the “eat whatever the hell you feel like” diet which was based on my cravings and whatever I could stomach. We cared only about calories and didn’t care where they came from. Normal diet principles didn’t apply.
So my diet changed dramatically. Below is what I ate every pretty much every single day. I could get it down and didn’t feel like I was running out of energy. I also started to view food as fuel – not something I needed to enjoy. Just something I needed to get down and as much as I possibly could.
· Breaky: Porridge with sultanas and cream; a tiny sip of coffee
· Lunch: Peanut butter, honey & butter rolls with LOTS of butter; 2-minute noodles
· Dinner: Pasta, rice or noodles with veggies, bangers and mash. Always followed by a block of chocolate.
· Snacks: Clif Bars and Bloks, chips, cookies, bowls of rice bubbles and nutri-grain, chocolate.
I also made sure I enjoyed the odd beer or glass of wine in the evening with Tommy. This was purely to allow myself to relax. I found that if I had an enjoyable, chilled evening, I would go into the next day in a much more positive mindset and run better.
Minimising weight loss
I knew I was going to lose weight as there is no way I could eat enough calories to match what I was burning. Knowing this, I actually put on a little bit of weight before the trip.
It was Day 15 when Tommy and I suddenly noticed I was getting skinny. It wasn’t a huge shock, especially since I had really struggled to eat in week 1 due to anxiety. But we knew keeping weight loss to a minimum was going to be key to my success so we made a couple of calorie enhancing changes.
For example, we swapped milk for cream. I would generally have 2-3 bowls of cereal a day which became very calorie dense when swimming in cream. A nice little addition of approx. 500+ calories a day.
I also took to eating entire blocks of Whittakers for dessert – another 1000+ calories!
I have to admit, I also smashed Maccas a couple of times – Quarter pounder, nuggets, fries, chocolate thick shake and a large sundae! Good way to get a big calorie boost!
The result? I was able to maintain my weight for the rest of the North Island and actually put on a bit of weight in the South. This is likely due to the fact I was doing more hiking, as opposed to running, in the South compared to the North.
We didn’t actively monitor my hydration but did implement steps to make sure I wasn’t getting dehydrated.
I ALWAYS fill up my bladder at every opportunity, regardless of how full it was. Sometimes the opportunities to fill up were few and far between, and I didn’t want to get caught without water.
If I was able to get back to the van during the day, I often drank coke. I’m sure lots of ultra runners would agree that there is nothing better than a cold coke on a hot day!!
Chocolate milk at the end of the day which helps with hydration but also provides carbs, proteins, fats and electrolytes.
Sipping on an electrolyte drink in the evening.
I typically drank around 4 litres a day but on hot days, this increased to 6+ litres.
How did I fare?
I never weighed myself during the trip because I didn’t want to stress myself out. But we think that I ended up around 4-5 kilos lighter than I started. Given I spent 66 days running over a marathon a day, I think this is pretty remarkable and is a big reason why I didn’t get any injuries.
This is one of the questions I get asked most frequently. And to be honest, before I started this journey, I had no bloody idea! But over the past year, I have learnt a thing of two.
I’ve run several marathons and ultras – some with the guidance of a coach and others without. But a 3,000km run was way over my head, which is why I enlisted to help of expert ultra-coach Andy Dubois, from Mile 27 Coaching.
We started training together in Jan and there were two distinct phases:
I had entered into the marathon at Buffalo Stampede which acted as a nice little milestone in April to work towards, whilst still keeping my eye on the long game of NZ.
In the lead up to Buffalo, I ran 5 days a week and averaged between 55 – 80kms per week. I typically also threw in an easy bike ride, 2 x gym sessions and a yoga session (although I was a little slack with the yoga and probably only did it every second week). A sample of my weekly training was:
Mon – Rest day OR easy bike ride
Tues – Easy hour run + gym
Wed – Hills: 15mins warm up, then 6x (4mins hard running/2mins hiking), 15mins cool down
Thurs – Gym only (no running)
Fri – Intervals: 15mins warm up; 7 x 4mins hard with 90s recovery between; 15mins cool down
Sat – 3 hours with mixture of runnable and steep hiking
Sun – 90mins easy running with last 20mins fast finish
Something you might pick up is that all of my sessions were time based, not distance based. This is a shift from what I have done previously and something I really liked. It meant when I went to do my easy run, I actually ran easy. It didn’t make any difference if I ran quicker or slower - the session was still X number of minutes. It was also easier to schedule. For example, I wasn’t trying to cram a 14km run into a 60min block.
The result? I raced Buffalo Stampede on 13th April and snagged myself 2nd place! You can read my race report here.
I had a weeks recovery before my training really ramped up. I started averaging between 90 – 120kms a week, with a few peak weeks where I hit 130-150kms (more on that later).
I started doing more adventure specific training, including lots of hiking hill repeats. These were done on both steep inclines (+25%) but also on less steep inclines (10%). I would normally run up the less steep hills but the reality was, in NZ, I would walk/hike these which meant I had to do it in training. I forgot about my ego and walked up those little hills.
I also incorporated some hill sessions with a weighted 7kg pack to replicate the days when I had to stay out in backcountry huts and needed to carry all my food, sleeping system and clothing. These were a nice little taster of what was to come in the South Island.
Finally, I ran every day from June 29 until the start of November. This was to get used to the repetition of what NZ would be like.
“What have I gotta do today?”
A sample of my training for this phase is below.
Mon – Easy 30mins + gym
Tues – AM Easy 30mins; PM Easy 60mins
Wed – Hills: 15mins warm up, then 3 x 15mins hard hiking hill repeats with a 7kg back pack; 15mins cool down
Thurs – Easy 30mins + gym
Fri – Intervals: 15mins warm up; 2 x 20mins at 4:10-4:15 mins/km with 2 min recover between, 15mins cool down
Sat – 4 hours with mixture of runnable and steep hiking
Sun – 2 hours easy running
To better mimic NZ, I had 3 training weekends which featured higher volume and time on feet. This was perfect opportunity to test out kit and nutrition, plus get an indication on how my body would feel in NZ.
It was also an opportunity for Tommy to get a taste of what crewing is like – making sure food was ready, gauging how I was feeling at night and understanding my moods.
Below is what I did for my final training weekend:
Fri – 90mins in the AM then 90mins in the PM = ~30km
Sat – 6 hours with mixture of runnable and steep hiking = ~42km with 2500m vert
Sun – 6 hours of mostly runnable with some road running = ~55km with 900m vert
I also made this final weekend a little tougher by sleeping in our tent in the backyard on Fri and Sat night to mimic staying in backcountry huts. This was fun but geez I was glad to get back into my bed on Sunday night!
Build me up, buttercup
A strong running body isn’t built by just running lotsa miles. Yes, this is really important but for multi-day adventure, where your body is getting pounded day after day, you need a strong, injury resistant body. This is why I religiously went to the gym twice a week. And the result was zero injuries on the trail.
I following an online strength program from Andy. It included 10 workouts which got progressively harder, along with a taper week. I typically spent 2-3 weeks on each workout before progressing to the next week. I LOVED this program for a few reasons:
It complimented my running, meaning I could still go out and run hard. The workouts make me work but I didn’t end up with massive DOMS
It hardly uses any weights and no machines. It is mostly body weight, which made it easy to do anywhere. Once I reached week 10, I had only just graduated to 3kg weights!
The exercises mimic running and I noticed a massive improvement in my balance and stability. My ankles and feet got a lot stronger, which I believe is why I didn’t have any feet problems (aside from pesky blisters in the first week!) during my adventure.
This girl grew herself a booty! Unfortunately I lost it by the end of the North Island! Hellooooo pancake bum.
For the first time in my life, I also focussed on my recovery. And to my surprise, it actually wasn’t that hard. There were really only three things I did:
SLEEP! This is something I have gone on and on about to anyone who listens. Easily my number one recover top. I made sure I was getting around 9 hours sleep every night. When I didn’t get as much sleep, like when travelling down to Melbourne, I noticed my performance really suffered.
Spikey ball rolling: I did just15mins of this most nights when in front of the TV. My calves & glutes are notorious for getting tight so I really focused on them. I am a terrible stretcher but for some reason, I find I don’t mind rolling around on the spikes ball.
Massage: In the final couple of months I got a massage once a fortnight. I have a brilliant masseuse in Bright who knows my body and totally annihilates it. This really helped to keep everything in working order.
Consistency is key
We have all been told this at some point but I have now come to realise how true this is. I was 100% committed to this adventure which meant that I didn’t miss a single session in the 11 months I trained. That’s right. Not. A. Single. Session.
I did every easy run. Every interval session. Every hill session. Every long run.
Sure, I swapped a couple of sessions around to make sure they fit into my schedule and I cut back one session due to a sore hip. But otherwise, I was the perfect student.
But it wasn’t easy. I was travelling to Melbourne (a 4hr car trip) every fortnight, which meant a 3:30am wake up call. But I would still fit in my sessions, running during lunchtime or after work. Sometimes I did them straight out of the car. This was far from glamorous and I was often tired. Dead tired. But my mindset was that this was perfect training because I would be dead tired in NZ.
Some of these sessions were triumphant, where I nailed all my paces. Others were pretty terrible. But I never let it get to me. I just did the best I could do that day. I learnt that one crap session didn’t mean the next session would be crap, so I just got on with it.
I ran the Te Araroa Trail in 66 days and 7 hours, which is nearly 4 days faster than my target time of 70 days.
The more impressive thing is that I did it with zero injuries and virtually no niggles. The only small niggle was a sore plantar fascia in my right foot in the final 2 weeks which was caused from a tight calf muscle. But this wasn’t something that impacted my running - it just made it a tiny bit more uncomfortable. The only other issue was a severely sun and wind burnt lower lip because this ginger ninja was clearly not sun smart enough!
You would think that after running the entire North Island in 34 days, I would have a little bit of confidence going into the South Island right? Wrong.
We boarded the Interisland Ferry a few hours after I completed the North Island. This is where I began to unravel – getting super stressed out about the next section. About the mountains. About the river crossings. About what happens when our friends, who were joining for the next 10 days, leave.
I was a total mess and on the verge to tears, which spilled over big time when we hit Picton. Miserable. Tommy tried to console me without much luck. I also chatted to a friend back home to try, who pointed out that I seem to have these melt downs when I am stationary. My mind runs away when it has too much time to think.
That said, before I could get too far into my own head, the first day of South Island started out with a bang. Tommy chaperoned me to a small tourist transfer boat which took me out to the start of the stunning Queen Charlotte Track.
It is also here where I joyfully picked up our friends, Nicki and Mat. Having these two legends from back home, who are among the nicest and most uplifting runners you could be around, was an amazing boost. But sadly, at the very back of my mind, I just knew having them around would make it even harder when they left. But that was a while off yet so I just got on with having as much fun as I could.
After this stunning and positive start to the South Island, we then went into the notorious Richmond Ranges. They are known for very steep and technical terrain – arguably the hardest in the whole country. Just as we were getting ready to tackle this section, the sky opened up and we got torrential rain. Rivers rose, roads flooded.
We talked through what we should do – wait or go – but all agreed was a no brainer to wait. I got some comfort in making a smart call and waiting another day to mentally prepare. But it did further highlight one of my biggest fears - rising rivers. Instead of heading into the mountains, we ran 12km to the trailhead and spent the arvo hanging around Havelock, drinking coffee and the odd beer. It was a pretty good tonic for my nerves and another great unplanned fun memory.
The following day we went for it. Lucky for us, this terrain was similar to what we have back home – mountains, mountains and more mountains – so we felt like we were in our element. The only difference was that we would be staying in huts for three nights so had to carry all our kit and food with us.
Day 1 was a breeze.
Day 2 featured three big climbs including going up the screen covered Little Rintoul (which was not little) and Mt Rintoul. These were slow but the views made up for it.
Day 3 was memorable for good and bad reasons. Bad because we had to do 7 crossings of the Wairo River, which was flowing incredibly fast. These crossings are really mentally taxing and we were all wrecked by the end of the day. Good because we had absolutely stunning views that stretched right to the coast from the top of Red Hill.
Day 4 was a death march. We just wanted to get to the van.
We had conquered the Richmond Ranges and next up was Nelson Lakes, including the mighty Waiu Pass. Unfortunately, Mat had succumbed to shin splints so it was just Nicki and I heading out for 2 nights in huts. Mat would stay with Tommy in the van.
Nicki and I were on a mission. The schedule says four days but we agreed that we would try to finish in three so we could have Christmas Day off!
Day 1 was easy. We zoomed through the first 20kms which were flat. We went up and over Travers Saddle and made it to the West Sabine Hut in good time. We were on track.
Day 2 was hard. Really hard. We had heard that part of the track had been washed away recently so we started at 6am to give ourselves a little more time. Huge chunks of the track had collapsed into the river which sent us bush bashing around them. It took us over 3 hrs to get through a section which would normally take 1.5hrs. We were literally crashing our way through a wall of trees and bushes.
We continued up, taking in Blue Lake and Lake Constance which have some of the purest water in the world. The track wasn’t very formed – we stumbled our way across tussock and up scree slops. We had a quick regroup at the bottom of the Pass.
The Pass was basically a huge scree slope, which wasn’t too bad as it made for consistent footing. We slowly picked our way up and had some celebratory Whittakers at the top. Then it was a slow, boulder hopping descent back down to the river, which we followed all the way to Waiau Hut, which has only 6 beds. We arrived at 4:30pm but the hut was already full. Our options were to push on or sleep on the floor. We decided to take a punt and keep going to Anne Hut, which was 22km away.
We ran/hiked to Ada homestead, about 15kms along. The views were particularly beautiful with horses running in the dying sunlight. We reached Ada River at 8pm and started scoping out a safe place to cross. It was hard to find a suitable place as the sun was sinking and cast a shadow over the river so we couldn’t see the bottom. We attempted one spot but then pulled out as the current was too strong. We walked about 1km up the river where we found a spot where we could see the bottom. We pulled ourselves together and got across using the river crossing technique. Phew!
We reached Anne Hut at 9:45pm, had a baby wipe shower and crept inside. The next day, we were knackered. But it was only 30kms to Boyle Village where the boys would meet us and we would have a rest day the next day – Christmas Day! We arrived at 2:30pm and had a beer in hand by 3:30pm at the campsite. Bliss.
Christmas Day was lovely. I slept in to 10:30am and basically ate for the rest of the day. Around 5pm I started to get distracted – thinking about the days ahead.
Nicki and Mat left on Boxing Day and I headed out for 3 days by myself. I was a total mess. There were tears that morning – the type of crying that sounds more like you are hyperventilating. I didn’t want to go. I was scared of being alone. I was stressed out about the river crossings.
Thankfully Tommy accompanied me for the first 12km, which included two river crossings, which were, of course, totally fine. Then I was on my own. To be honest, the three days are a blur because I just put my foot down and legged it from hut to hut. I didn’t stop to enjoy the scenery or take anything in. I simply wanted to get it done. To get to the next hut in would hopefully meet another hiker so I had someone to talk to. Thankfully I teamed up with one, Mark, to do the final river crossing. Again, it was totally fine. Talk about making a mountain out of a mole hill Lucy.
Getting my mojo back
Gradually, things got better. I teamed up with some local runners to take on the mighty Goat Pass. I summited the highest point of the trail. I tackled the Two Thumb Range by myself and ran along the most beautiful single track which had views over the crystal blue Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook. In other words, I got my mojo back.
Of course, there were still some crappy moments – like slipping over when trying to cross Bush Stream. As I went to take a step forward, I lost my footing and before I knew it, I was fully submerged in the river. I somehow managed to lunge forward onto a shallow bed of rocks about 1.5m in front of me. I stripped off my pack and sat on the river bank for about five minutes, completely shaken. I ate a sandwich, put my pack back on and went on to tackle the next four crossings.
I also ran what was possibly the worst trail of the trip - the Mararoa River Track. Basically, it wasn’t a track. I was simply pushing my way through grass as high as my shoulders, falling into boggy marshes that went up to my thighs and bush bashing my way through gorse bushes, which are basically just super sturdy, giant prickle bushes. It was poorly marked so I was constantly second guessing if I was going the right way. Oh, and it started pissing down rain. This went on for 18kms. I was completely drenched and frustrated. Tommy joined me for moral support for the final 7km, which made it a little better. A cup of tea has never tasted so good as it did when I finally got to the van!
In the final weeks we also had an influx of friends and family join. First, Scooby from London joined me for one day. Then we met Tommy’s brother, sister and her boyfriend in Twizel. Then Alex joined us. Then Laura and Phil met us at Lake Hawea. Finally, Melissa flew in from NYC as a surprise. I had my own little entourage and they made the whole experience super positive. There was no room to get worried about anything.
We also covered some of the most beautiful sections of the trail – Breast Hill, Montotapu Ranges, Arrowtown. The overnights were now something I looked forward to because I was sharing it with friends. It was fun. Super fun.
Day 63 was one of my favourite days. It was through the Longwood Forest. We had been warned of knee-high mud and bogs. Tommy joined me for the day and we had a ball – jumping over puddles and traversing our way around muddy pits. It was like a game and I felt like a big kid. The 56km flew by.
One more marathon
I can honestly say, the final day was one of the best in my life. I had run 20kms extra the penultimate day to make sure my last day was just a cruisey marathon.
The terrain wasn’t inspiring. In fact it was some of the worst on the trail. But Tommy joined me for the entire time. It felt so fitting that he was by my side for the final day.
First up was 9kms on a busy road. Then 10kms on a gravel walkway with our friend Laura, which was pleasant. Then 16kms on a State Highway which was very popular with logging trucks. We had to leap off the road ever few minutes to avoid being mown down.
Finally, it was 7km across farmland onto a coastal track to the Bluff signpost. We took our time, taking in the scenery, chatting about the trip, facetiming my parents. The final km was brilliant. Friends had laid out signs for me with silly quotes which made me laugh. As I rounded the final bend, I got emotional for a second but then I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. A group of girl guides had lined up and I gave them all high fives. I hugged my crew. I hugged Tommy.
66 days. 7 hours. 8 minutes. I had beaten the previous record by over 11 days.
The sky was dark and the waves crashed over the cragged rocks, spraying salty water everywhere. I was clinging to the side of a rock, waiting for a break in the waves.
“Lucy! No! Come back”
I turn to see Tommy, fear etched across his face. I retreat quickly and immediately start bawling my eyes out…. again.
It’s day one. I’m three kilometre into my 3,000km run across NZ and I have already cried about six times. Geez, this is going to be a long trip.
Day one disaster
I would love to say my first day on the Te Araroa was triumphant, exhilarating and exciting. Finally making my dream a reality. How amazing! But to be honest, I was a ball of nervous energy who was on the verge of bursting into tears at any moment.
From Cape Reinga, the trail heads down past steep cliffs and over rocks to the long Te Werahi Beach. It is highly recommended to do this at low tide, to make the rock scrambling safer and easier. Unfortunately it was close to high tide when I set off so Tommy kindly accompanied me for the first four kms to ensure I safely navigated my way around the rocks. After the drama described above , I managed to pull myself together and head off on my merry way to our first meet point – the 40kms mark.
After a couple of kms on the beach, I climbed up to run along the muddy cliffs. It was slow going – made even slower by a storm which drenched me to the bone. I finally hit the beach again after a couple of hours and was looking forward to chewing up the kms. Little did I know how soul destroying running on the beach is. You literally are running to nowhere – just to a whitish haze in the distance. Yes, it is definitely beautiful but after five hours, this fades.
I reached the meet point and hiked over the sand dune to see Tommy. But no-one was there. The campsite was empty. Thankfully I got one bar of phone reception and received a message from Tommy, saying the road was blocked so I needed to keep running along the beach. He would meet me further down, hopefully in 10kms or so.
So, I kept running towards the haze. I was getting tired so implemented a 2.5kms run/500m walk strategy. After what felt like a lifetime, I saw a lone figure running towards me with his arms open. Tommy had driven to the end point (km 70), hitched a lift 10kms up the beach and then run a further 10kms to meet me. After feeding me a croissant, we headed back together to complete the final 20kms. There was now a massive headwind, so I cowered behind Tommy the whole way, running 8 min kilometres.
We reached the campsite at 5:30pm and I had run 69kms – the longest I had ever run in a day. I was totally wrecked. How the hell was I going to keep this up for 70 days?
Every step is one step closer
The first week was tough – both physically and mentally. Every morning started with tears. I was struggling to eat. I was stressing out about getting lost, about the upcoming estuary crossings. I felt lonely. I had blisters – something I never had during training. I was worried I would fail. I wasn’t enjoying myself.
But as the days went on, I started to have moments of joy. Running through the muddy Raetea Forest on Day 3. Seeing the beautiful Rainbow Falls on the Kerikeri River trail on Day 4. Wading through the peaceful Papakauri Stream in the Russel Forest and meeting Natalie Gallant, who is running the trail self-supported, on Day 5.
I stopped focussing on the whole 3,000kms. Instead I focussed on just getting to the next meet point in 10/20/30kms time. Every step was one step closer to Bluff. Eat the elephant one bite at a time.
I had a big turning point on Day 8. I ran 57kms and I felt strong. It wasn’t an easy day by any means – I started off on a dreaded beach followed by sealed roads and undulating, exposed fire trails. But I powered up them. I finished off running along the beautiful Mangawhai Coastal Track and whooped with joy. I was mentally in a good spot and was having fun.
I think this was due to the fact I had a really relaxing evening with Tommy the night prior. I had finished relatively early (4:30pm) and instead of pushing out a few more kms, we opted to head to the campsite. We had plenty of time to shower, stretch, have a leisurely dinner and I got 10hrs sleep. This set me up for a good day the next day.
Rolling, rolling, rolling
The days just started to click by after this point.
Don’t get me wrong, there were still plenty of terrible moments – like the final 6kms into Te Kuiti where the route went up and down every single hill in the region or getting zapped by an electric fence, when straddling over it, on my you know where. But I was able to cope with these moments better, knowing they were temporary.
I also started having people join me, which was a real highlight. The first were Paul and Tracey in Owera, then Stu in Silverdale who accompanied me across the Okura Estuary. Rusty, Mary and Brendan in Hamilton and Jenny in Auckland. Sharing the trail with these new friends made the kms fly by.
Shared experiences are better experiences
I had been counting down to Day 19 from the beginning because that was the day that my friend, Caz, was arriving from Aus. We ran a blissful 44kms along the Timber Trail – chatting, laughing and taking in the amazing suspension bridges along the trail. We drank beers and ate burritos in the evening sun that night, and I felt like I was on holidays.
Caz ran with me for four days, including taking on the Tongariro Crossing which was meant to be one of the highlights of the trip. Unfortunately, we woke up to grey, drizzly skies and gale force winds. The first 5kms of the hike was lovely but as we got higher, it got more barren and we could smell the sulphur. It also got windier and the visibility dropped. Soon we could only see 10m in front of us and could only just make out the directional markers.
As we summitted the final section, we were reduced to 30min per km pace. It was like a scene out of a mountaineering movie as we inched forward and the wind battered us. It was scary and we just wanted to get done asap. After four hours, we were finally down far enough that the wind dropped and we could start to relax.
A welcome break
I had a mini melt down the day that Caz left. The only consolation was that I only to had to run 54kms that day and then Tommy and I would get three days kayaking the Whanganui River together. This was a well earnt mental break for both of us – particularly for Tommy who had literally been doing everything for me for the past 23 days.
There was no reception. No logistics to worry about. Just floating down the river. It was hugely refreshing and needed, although my pencil arms were dead by the end of it.
A wrong turn
Our next set of temporary crew flew in on Day 28 – Ez and Steve. These legends stayed with us for five days and were a massive help as they shouldered the responsibility of cooking, driving and generally mothering me. Ez ran the trail with me (which was main road at this point, which is her nemesis) while Steve kept Tommy company. But having a second driver also meant Tommy could do some running with me, including taking on the dreaded Tararua Ranges.
The Tararua Ranges have a reputation for being hard. Steep, muddy, rooty and notorious for having weather which deteriorates rapidly. Thankfully the weather gods were looking down on us and the forecast said three sunny days.
Packing for three days in the mountains took us a lot longer than we thought so we didn’t hit the trail until 9:45am. The first section was lovely shady forest with little stream crossings, which we leaped across trying to keep our feet dry.
There was around 5km of road before entering the Ranges. As we sped hiked, a car pulled up with the owner of the local outdoor centre inside. We had a great chat with him, as he was super friendly and helpful. However, when we told him we were aiming for Te Matawai Hut, he put his head in the steering wheel and with gritted teeth advised it was normally an 8 hr hike. It was already 4pm. We didn’t have a tent and there would be no other shelter on the way. We could tell he wanted to advise us strongly against it, but he was also trying to be considerate and appreciated we sounded pretty serious with our endeavours.
We put the foot down and smashed out the next few kms. We hit the base of the climb at 5pm and started heading up – confident we would get there at 9 or 9:30pm. At 6:30pm, I checked the map. We were off the trail. Uh oh. The trail notes had warned about going up the wrong path, towards another hut which was on the old TA trail. We had done just that.
I started to panic but Tommy stayed calm. We bombed our way back down, reaching the bottom at 7:30pm. We had lost 2.5hrs. We didn’t really have any other option but to push on because we didn’t have a tent. We restarted the correct climb.
It was getting dark but we didn’t have to pull out the head torches until 9pm due to a full moon. We suddenly reached a ridge where all the trees dropped away and we could see right out to the coast. It was peaceful and beautiful and we took a moment to enjoy it.
The final 2 hrs were hard. Dodging roots and mud in the dark. We reached the hut at 11:30pm, had a baby wipe shower outside, changed into pjs and snuck into the hut. Thankfully there were a few spare beds. Unfortunately, there was a snorer so I had a crap night sleep.
The following day was also memorable but for positive reasons. The trail was hard – only 20kms which took us 11hrs but it was stunningly beautiful as it ran primarily along ridge lines with magnificent views. We arrived at the wonderful Waitewaewae Hut at 7:30pm, jumped in the river to wash off and ate salami and cheese wraps for dinner.
Farewell North Island
The final few days on the North Island were fun. Erin and I ran the spectacular Escarpment Track and took in windy Colonial Knob as I headed towards Wellington.
Another highlight was meeting, and running with, Mina Holder, the previous FKT holder for the TA trail. Mina and I first connected over two years ago and she has been a major source of inspiration and help when planning this trip. Mina and her hubby, James, welcomed Tommy and I into their home, fed us bangers and mash, and even gave me a massage. It felt so fitting that I finished the North Island with her beside me.
One island down. One more to go.
The Grand Canyon is one of the 7 wonders of the world and has rightly secured its place in this list. Located in northern Arizona, it is approximately 1 mile deep and 277 mile long. It is one of the worlds most spectacular examples of erosion and is an extremely popular place for tourists from all over the world.
We sped our way towards the GC after leaving Vegas a little bit later than expected. Thankfully we managed to arrive around 20 minutes before the sunset and I led a closed-eye Tom to the edge before letting him open his eyes and soak up the enormity of this place. Perched on a rock that overhung the edge, we watched the sky and canyon turn different shades of pink as the sun sunk below the horizon.
We jumped in the car to head to our “nearby” accommodation. Whilst the underestimation of distance was not as bad as Bishop (which was actually 3 hours away from Yosemite, not the 1 hour we thought), Flagstaff turned out to be 1 hour 45 mins away from the Canyon as opposed to the 1 hour Tom has estimated. We sped along in the dark towards home and as I faffed with something in my lap, Tom suddenly hit the brakes causing a small stream of abuse from myself…that is until I looked at the road and noticed an ENORMOUS elk standing boldly in the middle. We stopped with around 10m to spare and the bloody thing didn’t move until Tom held his hand on the horn. The final 45 minutes of the drive was considerably slower.
After checking into our airbnb room in Flagstaff, we didn’t get to bed until 1am due to some admin that needed urgent attention. This made the 5:30am wake up to hike the Canyon a bit of a struggle. Bleary eyed, we piled into the car with our thermos of coffee and a tub of porridge. We arrived at 7:30am and jumped onto the hikers shuttle (complimentary with the $25 entry fee you have to pay) to the Kaibab South Trail.
There are several outer rim hikes at the GC but hiking under the rim is considered strenuous, while hiking to the bottom and back in a day is highly unrecommended. However I had done exactly this when I was here 10 years ago (Ummm…how did I suddenly get old enough to make a statement like that!?) and while it was hard, we managed it in 9 hours back then. I was confident we could beat that time. Tom was a little nervous that I was leading him on a treacherous journey.
You don’t really get to understand the scale of the GC until you start walking down. The views are constantly changing and you see different levels insides - red dust, then grey, then red then suddenly there is greenery. We started at 8:30am and it took us 2.5 hours to get down to the Colorado River. Along the way we were overtaken by a few runners - 3 guys hurtled past at neck breaking speeds along with a few groups of girls.
Feeling fresh and confident we started the ascent. It is only then that you realised how hard it is - the sun is beating down, the path is dusty and suddenly you are going through your water quite quickly. The bottom is lush and we followed a lovely creek with greenery for around 1.5 hours up to the Indian Garden, a rest stop on the Bright Angel trail. This signalled the final big push up to the top - 4.5 miles of switch back after switch back all the way to the top.
Enthused that each step was taking us closer to the top which was closer to the car which was closer to McDonalds where we were going to buy some fries, we set a cracking pace up the hill. Until this point we had not been overtaken by anyone except for the crazy runners so you can imagine our delight when we overtook 2 of the running girls on the way up. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race!
Fuelled by Starburst, we reached the top at 3:15pm - 6 hours and 45 minutes after we started! We had hiked a total of 16 miles, descended and ascended a total vertical height of 2 miles (1 mile each way). We were covered in red dust but pretty elated as we hadn’t expected to get back until 5:30pm.
After cleaning ourselves off, we jumped in the car, demolished some Maccas fries and started what felt like the longest drive of the trip back to Flagstaff. After a proper shower, Tom devoured a pizza, I ate pad thai and we crawled into our memory foam bed with a tub of ice-cream at 8pm to watch a movie and pass out. It was possibly one of the best days of our trip thus far.
Two bikes. 19 days. 2005 miles
In May 2014, we quit our professional London jobs to cycle from Lands End to John O’Groats, affectionately known as LEJOG. For you non-British folk, that’s the bottom to the top of the UK.
Tommy and I had been living in London for two years and were getting the classic case of itchy feet. We were already planning to do some travelling before relocating back to Australia, but after reading Free Country by George Mahood (which you should all read - it is hilarious) we thought there couldn’t be a better way to say goodbye to Britain then by cycling it.
As we didn’t have time constraints, we decided to take the scenic route and avoid major roads where possible. We used the fantastic Sustrans National Cycle Network to plot our route on cycle paths and exported these into a GPX app to keep us on track whilst en-route.
We rode between 38 - 90 miles a day, which is between three to seven hours in the saddle a day.
As we had a set route, we pre-booked accommodation through airbnb. This gave us a destination to work towards plus reassured us that we would always a comfy bed waiting after a long day in the saddle. Plus it meant we had one less thing to think about whilst riding. We only had to change our accommodation once as we decided to ride further on the penultimate day (to make our final day a little cruiser).
We traveled very light and everything fit into an Altura Arran saddle post bag. We pretty much nailed the kit component except for one big fail - we didn’t have waterproof jackets. We just didn’t think it would rain that much.
But these were quickly purchased on day one (as it was pouring) and we wore them alot, not only for wet weather but for warm.
Honestly, this is our top holiday/adventure. Each day was very simple - ride from A to B. And eat as much as you want along the way!