Some time ago I had an art exhibition called 'Ahipara Jouney: man, nature and long-distance running' which explored aspects of ultra-running.
an exhibition by Barnaby McBryde
Statement of Artistic Intent
An ultra-marathon is any foot race longer than the 42 km of the marathon. I ran my first ultra in 1996 – the Rotorua 100 km race. Since then I have competed in many races including 100 km, 12 and 24 hour races, and two multi-day races – completing 600 km in a six-day race in New York.
But perhaps my favourite race has been the annual Te Houtaewa Challenge – a 60 km race along Ninety Mile Beach, ending in the tiny village of Ahipara. The race is founded upon the legend of Te Houtaewa.
Turning into First Avenue in central Manhattan on the New York Marathon with the roar of the tens of thousands of wild spectators packing the sides of the road echoing up the canyon of high-rise buildings is a special experience, but it doesn’t compare to running Ninety Mile Beach: the sea to one side, the sand ahead, the sky above, and the nearest person a tiny dot on the horizon. It is an experience of nature as much as it is of running. Which is why Ahipara Journey deals not just with running but with the delicate balances found in nature, and with the role humanity has played in fitting into those balances or destroying them. Northland used to be clothed in rich Kauri forest: today there is ryegrass and a few sheep.
Thus do the land and the sea converse
The old song has it that ‘a kiss is just a kiss, a smile is just a smile’ - on the other hand, running is never just running. The process of running transforms the runner. Which is why running has always been used as a metaphor. Running is humanity’s endless quest for perfection. Somewhere over the horizon is a finish line, is a goal, is the victory we all earn for. When we run, we live the metaphor. And along the way we are touched by many things and many people: the beauty and simplicity of the land, the beauty and simplicity of people.
The first time I ran the Te Houtaewa Challenge I was delighted to find that the aid stations didn’t involve speeding past a table and catching up a paper-cup of Powerade as someone called out ‘looking good’. Slowly, slowly a tiny dot on the horizon resolved itself into a solitary figure in the vast empty landscape and finally there was an old kuia standing alone on the sand, a milk-bottle of water in her hand, who poured water into a china cup, handed it to one, took the empty cup back, and without a word spoken smiled one on one’s way.
(Arohanui is a Maori word meaning - big love.)
This is a race which more than most – and they all have their magic – can perform the alchemy of running. Somewhere there at the end of Ninety Mile Beach there is perfection; somewhere nestled against those hills at the southern end of the beach it is to be found; somewhere there where you turn off the hard sand and over the sandhills to the finish line in Ahipara Domain it is waiting.
I have glimpsed it.
The Alchemy of Running
Gratiosus Jesulus Pragensis