UKC/UKH user Dan Burgess is planning to run the length of New Zealand later this year. As long distance challenges go it's a bit like Lands End to John o'Groats, only less famous ...and further.
The route from Bluff on the South Island to Cape Reinga on the North Island covers a distance of around 2200km. Dan aims to kick off 1 November, and hopes to complete the lot in about 30 days - comfortably longer than record times for the route, but still ambitious.
Dan, 30, and his wife Sarah have been over in NZ for the last year, paying their way cleaning and waiting tables in Wanaka. Their free time is spent 'tramping', trail running, rock climbing and skiing, so with their work visa expiring at the close of 2012 it seemed appropriate to end their working holiday with one more great adventure.
'I spent a long time trying to think of what might satisfy this ambition' says Dan. 'New Zealand has been good to us so I also felt that it would be nice to give something back. And so the plan was hatched to run the length of the country, raising money in the process for Cystic Fibrosis NZ (as selected by a good Kiwi friend who helped us when we were in need), and Parkinson's UK.'
By his own admission Dan is more a climber than a runner, an activity he only took up around 7 years ago with Sheffield Triathlon Club as a way to keep fit for climbing. He has competed in mountain events and half marathons, but has always avoided anything longer because, he says, he tends to get bored after about 1.5 hours.
'I wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew this time?' he jokes. Well he's certainly going to have to extend his boredom threshold. Music and audio books should help, he says.
'When I had the idea [for the run] I wanted to learn a little about people who had run the length of New Zealand before me, and it seems there have been a few' says Dan. 'Lisa Tamati completed the distance in about 33 days; Andrew Hedgman did it in 28 days. When you start crunching the numbers it is evident that both are exceptionally determined athletes, grinding their way through a daily average of almost two consecutive marathons! Incredible as those times were, what I found to be even more astonishing was the story of Siegfried Bauer's end-to-end run. If the information I found is correct (and I certainly hope that it is), this distance running legend managed to cover the same distance in just 18 days. The year was 1975!'
'I don't imagine I will be breaking any such records' he concedes, 'but what I do hope for is an amazing, memorable journey through a beautiful land which has stolen my heart, and a chance to thank the New Zealanders that have made our stay here so enjoyable by raising much needed funds for some very worthwhile causes.'
'As long as I feel I have really challenged myself I'll be happy, whatever the outcome.'
'The task of getting my body in shape to withstand the stresses of running at least a marathon a day, every day for a month, will be occupying my calendar until the end of October' says Dan. 'At that point I will be tapering off from training and making a very daunting journey down to Bluff, where numerous cyclists and not so many runners have either started or finished their own epic adventures.'
Fortunately his work as a cleaner allows a lot of time to train, and he regularly knocks off 10-15 miles and can do 26 'pretty comfortably'.
'Most of my training is done on trails rather than road, as I find the constant focus on foot placement quite absorbing' says Dan. 'I also think that because trail running makes you twist, turn and jump a lot more, your whole body gets a workout, which I've always assumed helps me avoid injury. I don't know how true that is but it seems to work for me (when I'm not twisting ankles or tripping over tree roots that is).'
'My aim is to be doing some back-to-back marathons before I start, with a weekly average of about 100 miles. I don't know if when I get to that point, I'll think 'crap, I should have done more', only time will tell! With 18 weeks left until the start I'm confident that I've got time to prepare, but I'm always happy to hear people's advice on types of training and how much I could be doing.'
From Bluff Dan's route north will largely follow roads.
'Initially I wanted to do the whole lot on a new long distance trail called Te Araroa (The Long Pathway) which would undoubtedly be more scenic, more fun and more challenging' he says. 'But we just won't have the time unfortunately, so I'm taking the shortest route offered by Google route planner (avoiding motorways where necessary). Generally you don't have to look far from the road in NZ to find amazing scenery, so I feel that it's not too much of a compromise. Highways over here are nothing like main roads in the UK in any case.'
Logistical support will be provided by Sarah:
'She will be driving close by in our dodgy little camper van - assuming it's still roadworthy then' says Dan. 'She'll leapfrog past me every 10 miles or so and be there to give me drinks, food, words of encouragement etc. Some people have already been in touch offering spare rooms or front lawns, which is amazing. Where that doesn't work out we'll be camping.'
So has he done anything of this scale in the past?
'The short answer to that is no' says Dan. 'This one's a bit random, but I did once bike the scenic route to Edinburgh from Kendal because I couldn't afford the train, with all of my climbing equipment lashed to the bike. For some reason the only food I took was four onions and a stock cube, which I ate with a comb because I didn't have a fork. I could taste the hair gel but it gave me such an energy boost that I didn't eat anything else the whole way.'
That sort of resourcefulness should stand him in good stead on the New Zealand run, but we suggest he thinks a bit more about catering this time round.
You can follow his progress leading up to and during the run, and make donations to his chosen charities, on Dan's blog.