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Every once in a great while, you have a run when everything goes right.

These rare occasions feel like gifts from the fickle running gods, bestowed on us to let us believe (even if mistakenly) that running is indeed easy and that anything is possible. I was lucky enough to have such a run recently.

Sophia Walker nz trailsIn training for the inaugural Taupo 100km Ultra, I decided that I needed to get in a good hard 50k day. Because I’d had a few stressful, chaotic weeks of life, a solo day on the trails in the beautiful Waitakere Ranges sounded like a soothing balm to my tattered nerves.

I picked a route from my house in Titirangi to the Piha Café, where I would meet a friend for a post-run pizza and beer (yes a whole pizza) and catch a ride home. In lieu of staying on trail the whole way, I bit the bullet and decided that I would follow hilly road all the way from Titirangi to Whatipu Beach, and then hop on the Hillary Trail the rest of the way to Piha. There would be next to no traffic at dawn on a Saturday, and it really is a beautiful stretch of road. These runnable miles would be the right call to get my legs ready for the TU course.

I woke up before my alarm, feeling rested and a little giddy, the way I always feel the morning of a Really Big Run. I sipped on a strong coffee and listened to Tuis and Warblers greet day as light filtered through the kauri and manuka trees behind my house. After a quick breakfast, I loaded up my running pack with food and water and headed out the door.

As I settled in a comfortable pace, I was grateful that I’d decided to leave at sunrise, because it was absolutely gorgeous. It was one of those mornings that fills me with a sense of near-disbelief and gratitude that I actually live here in New Zealand. Catching glimpses of a bright pink sunrise reflected in the water, embraced by the total stillness around me, I had one of those moments where natural beauty finds its way through every pore of your being until you feel filled to the brim with wonder. I knew it would be a good day.

But the hills…how would they feel today? I knew I needed to just grind it out even if it wasn’t pretty, but surprisingly, my legs seemed perfectly content and I was able keep up an honest trot. And to my delight, it was a gooood day for down hilling. I had that feisty “let er rip” feeling, and every time I crested the top of a hill it was like heaven to open up my stride, let my lungs relax and just hammer. It also meant I was making great time. I chilled out a little at Huia, soaked up the views and made my way steadily over to Little Huia.

Running along the bay, flanked by dramatic bush-cloaked cliffs in the pure quiet of morning, all the mental/emotional debris of the last few weeks seemed to fall away from me, like mud that had dried and flaked off my body, brushed away by my movement and the cool gentle breeze flowing down from the forested hills of the Whatipu Reserve. I took a deep breath and felt clean and new, so happy to be out there that I wasn’t even thinking about the many kilometers that lay ahead.

As I settled into a rhythm running up Whatipu Road, I came around a corner to discover a little brown ball in the middle of the road. “What the…?” A hedgehog! The poor little fella was curled up into a tiny spiky sphere, with one little foot poking out. I crossed my fingers that he wasn’t roadkill and approached him as quietly and gently as I could. I stroked the sole of his wee foot and he pulled it into his spike-ball. He was alive! His little hedgehog body seemed terrified, but he was still breathing. I looked around and considered the pros and cons of knocking on a local resident’s door at 8am on Saturday with the request of nursing a terrified hedgehog back to health. It probably wouldn’t go down so well.

sophia walker with hedgehog

I have to admit that the thought of bringing him with me also crossed my mind, and I did kind of love the idea of running all the way to Piha with him in my pack. But the little guy probably wouldn’t enjoy it much. Running with him under my arm like a tiny rugby ball probably wouldn’t work out so well either. So I gently scooped him up and settled him into a comfy patch of grass and tried to comfort him. Just as I started to run again, I glanced back and saw his tiny hedgehog face peek out from the grass to look at me, twitching his little black nose. He just might make it!

Happy that he was alright, and that I’d made it to the top of the hill, I let the downhill rip and was at Whatipu before I knew it. I chatted with a few surfers and another runner, refilled my water, and hopped onto Gibbon’s track for some climbing. The uphill’s seemed to be flying by today too, and it was one of those days when your brain just shuts off and the scenery fills you up and carries you. Once atop Gibbons track, looking toward the glistening black sands and big surf at Karekare, a strong offshore wind greeted me. I outstretched my arms to let it cool me off, and as I did a hawk floated by on an updraft only a few meters away. Smiling, I carried on and really did feel like I was flying.

sophia running nz trailsBefore I knew it, I was splashing my way across Kitekite falls, looking forward to the final few kilometers of downhill to Piha, relishing in the fact that my legs felt good. Shockingly good. I made a note to double check the mileage on google maps once I got home, because it really didn’t feel like I had 50km on my legs. Because my watch didn’t have longer than 6 hours of battery life when in GPS mode, I hadn’t bothered to turn it on. But somehow, here I was at Piha a little over 5 hours after leaving my house.

It was one of those wonderful moments when you surprise yourself with what you’ve just done. Heading out the door, I thought I’d have an all-day slog ahead of me. Instead, I had one of the best and easiest-feeling training runs I can remember. I certainly don’t take it for granted, because they don’t come around all that often, and my next run will probably feel like death.

But for now, for now I’d enjoy my pizza, grateful for my contentment, and toast to the fickle Running Gods for a damn good day on the trails.