In 2001 NZUA President, Richard Tout, asked Barney McBryde if he would contribute an article to the NZUA News on what he had been up to over the previous few months. Barney had been very active in a number of Ultra events that year, and his response was published in the next issue.
"There are only three winners:
The one who competes with himself.
The one who crosses the finish line first
And the one who finishes the race."
At 6am on the Sunday of the New Zealand National Championship 24-hour race I did what I had never done before in a race - I quit. The chances of being a winner had just decreased a lot: I certainly wasn't going to cross the line first. . . and I wasn't going to finish the race either. I sat gloomily beside the heater in the lap-counter's tent nursing my right knee.
It had been a great race. . . until 3am. But then it had been a great year.
It began on the sands of Ninety Mile Beach; the perfect setting. Any ultra is about leaving everything behind and standing alone before the pride of impossible distance. On the Te Houtaewa Challenge- a 60km race along Ninety Mile Beach- there is only the sky, the sea, the sand and nothing else, and all merge on the horizon over which one must run. A tiny dot resolves itself out of the distance and slowly, ever so slowly draws imperceptibly closer until slowly, slowly it becomes some old Maori woman standing alone with a milkbottle full of water and an old china cup. She pours you some water and hands it to you and takes back the cup with a silent smile when you are satisfied. My mother sometimes ends her letters"aroha nui" (big love)- now I know what she means.
The great moments in ultra running for me are all like that- not the heroic dash across the line (perhaps because mine are never heroic) but rather the girl with the daffodils on the aid station in the Rotorua 100km, Catherine Patton's words of encouragement in the race at Owairaka in 1997, the spirit that one feels at any race, the privilege of racing with legendary runners.
And who is more legendary than Ted Corbitt? 2001 was the year, after six years of running, I finally plucked up courage to do a multi-day race. So I lined up at the start of the Self Transcendence Six Day Race in New York. Amongst the 40 competitors was one who stood out- Ted Corbitt, aged 82.
I really only saw Ted's face for the first time at the award ceremony at the end of the race. This was for two reasons. Firstly, because he completed his record-breaking 303 miles hunched forward and leaning to one side, his eyes apparently fixed on the road unfolding before him. Secondly, one only really ever sees the backs of one's fellow competitors. I must confess that although for the majority of the six days of the race I saw his back as I passed him; come Day 6, I saw his back several times as he passed me and disappeared off down the track. To be lapped on a mile loop by a man old enough to be my grandfather- take my age, double it and add ten years- was actually a great honour when that man was Ted Corbitt. At the award ceremony he stood there, his ancient, wise face calm and serene beneath its victor's leafy crown and never said a word as people praised him, applauded him, as the race's creator- in a gesture honouring the man who had so honoured the race by his presence- lifted him overhead with one arm on a special apparatus. What need did he have for words- he had walked the walk, there was no need to talk the talk? If this man is ˜the Father of Ultra Running', as they call him, then this bodes well for the future of ˜his children'. Ultra-running will remain in the pure upper-reaches of the quest for human transcendence.
Musing by my heater at the 24hr race at 6.30am, word came that Jason Holley was back at the track and insisting that I come over to the massage area, that he was going to cure me, and that I was going to carry on with the race. I went, he did, and I did. I missed the distance I had been aiming for, I missed out on reaching 1,000km in races for the year which I had also been hoping for... but I finished the race!- I was a winner!
The fact is that we are all winners in every way.
"You have only one right place
To keep your victory trophy,
And that place is
Your heart's gratitude room"
There is a lot to be grateful for.