Riverhead - Mother of Trails
Usually once a year I try to do a big loop of the forest - a circumnavigation of sorts. Back in 2020 - I did this as a marathon. I love these missions - connecting a big loop in the forest with trails, gravel, mud, clay. And always exploring new parts of the forest, new perspectives for sunrise, sunset or check out a part of the forest that has changed because of tree felling. It’s hard to describe it as a run for me, definitely an adventure.
It’s always hard to tell my running friends my goals in running. Many of my friends have had serious running goals, climbing up the ladder in distances from 5km to 160km and beyond! And most have taken a progression up the distances. Or getting faster and faster, whatever their goals involve. For me I’ve never had the desire, after completing the 50km at Tarawera Ultra in 2015, I didn’t have any need to go up the ranks to run the 80km, 100km, 100mi like many, if not all of my friends now have.

A grand tour of Riverhead.

I took up running in my 30s, I’ve never been physically gifted - in terms of genes or my own personal commitment to it. I hated running at school, in P.E, cross country, many times being last, or last to be chosen for any team activities. Gifted, I was not. One thing that has remained the same to this day - I have come dead last in a couple of running events I’ve competed in as well, gifted, I am! I look up to my friends who make it look so easy, there is talent involved but mostly dedication and commitment to do it, and work really hard to get it done! I got into running through a work colleague who was organising team events at work, I signed up for The Dual (RIP) on Rangitoto Island. I became instantly hooked on trails - mostly for the scenery and the adventure. At the same time I had started to take my photography a lot more seriously. The idea was to use running as a “vehicle” to get me to places and get unique perspectives and explore new places.
In saying that, I did, also, enjoy achieving some running goals, especially in the early days - running a half marathon, marathon, then the 50km! I was keen to improve on my 5km, half marathon etc. I really enjoyed those as well - the progression you see in yourself, being fit - that’s a great feeling. Comparison is the thief of joy, we’ve all heard that before, even in photography I’ve heard this. But looking at what other achieve can also be inspiring. Keeping it at inspiration and not jealously - sometimes that is a fine line, sometimes a gray area. You could have someone who’s been out of running for many years, then turn up to a park run to run a faster time than your PB. Thoughts go through your mind: “How do they even…”. Remembering to use that an inspiration as opposed to throwing the towel in, it is hard at times - and sometimes you question yourself why you are doing this? I don’t know.

Ferns deep in the forest

Internally I still have those goals, on improving - but never been high priority, which is always my photography. The goals are really simple there - sometimes - do I want to spend “x” amount time or money on a certain running event / training or a photography event / adventures. The answer is very simple for me these days - photography comes first. But, there is also this inherent link between the photography and running, I have always run better when I’m feeling good about my photography. I remember doing my best marathon yet, at The Dual - a dream day where everything went right - this is a feeling I can’t forget, and always want to get back to. I remember I took a lot of photos and enjoyed it so much. I also remember when people would say - you should not stopped for photos, you would have been faster! No not true. How fast you go is not all about your physical characteristics, but how you are feeling. I was listening to Trail Runner Nation podcast recently, featuring Ian Sharman and Ellie Greenwood. Ian tells a story of his first Western States Endurance Run (WSER), he carried a point and shoot camera to capture his experience along the way, and just to enjoy the race. He finished in the top 10, and has many times after that. I’m a big fan of Jamil Coury who documents his runs, enjoys the moment and does it in good time. Kilian Jornet is another - he knows his photography, captures the moment, and still the best mountain runner in the world! 

One goal I do set for myself in running at least one marathon a year. Doesn’t have to a race, or organised event, just getting out there running a marathon distance. In 2020 I did just that, I designed a marathon loop around the forest and just did it. I was, of course, extremely slow, but very happy I did it. This year, 2024, I haven’t yet done the “marathon” yet. But I did decide to do a big loop of Riverhead - 36km around the forest. So close to a marathon, why didn’t I just do the extra 6km. I’m just not up to it this year, at the 30km mark I was already “done”, starting to walk - legs destroyed. Thinking about exiting at a earlier gate and ask for a lift from somebody?! Nah, I decided just to the did a death march back to the car. I did it!

The signature mist and fog in the forest

It was just more nice spending time in the forest, it was also Auckland Photo Day, every year the photography festival has a “Photo Day” where you can enter a competition to submit your photos taken on this day. I had thought about carrying my camera, but of course it was raining and dark grey day in Auckland, as it has been recently. I did get a few shots with the phone, and the mist and haze at the trig point was really nice. I have been defaulting to shoot more and more with the phone, the feature set of the modern phones are absolutely brilliant. And the processors and software on a phone is far superior to dedicated cameras on the market right now. A sidenote - I wished Samsung had continued to make their NX line of cameras - I could just imagine what they could achieve with their software on a camera. Anyhow modern-day phones are very powerful for the tiny, small image sensors and lens that they have. With techniques such as stacking, HDR, image stabilisation, AI, for any point and shoot user - they are amazing. And not only that, but many phones also have a “pro” mode which enables shooting in RAW mode, enabling you to edit photos with greater flexibility later, sometimes, I will cover that in another blog post about mobile photo.

So, I started this by talking about Riverhead and ended up down some other rabbit holes. Riverhead is the mother of trails, the true raw trails. Enjoy them.

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