Interview with Mina Holder the first woman to run the 3000km Te Araroa Trail

Over the last few months Mina Holder has been running the length of New Zealand, starting at Cape Reinga, the northernmost tip, following the windy, rugged terrain of the Te Araroa Trail, all the way down to Bluff in the South Island. A total distance of over 3000km. We got a chance to chat with her shortly after her epic run.

I hear you were pretty nesh as a youth, and running's a fairly recent discovery for you. How did you get into it in the first place? And what drew you to ultra-distance endurance running?

You heard right! Although I've always loved nature and the outdoors, I would have chosen to sit still in it up until my mid twenties! When I was 25 James (my now husband) signed me up for a half marathon with 3 months to go! My first 2km training run was one of my least favourite things I have ever done! Due to my stubbornness I stuck with it and completed the half - this is where my love of running started! Not long after this event I discovered trail running and soon signed up for the Marathon des Sables with 3 years to train (I do have a tendency to aim high above my station!!). With this epic event on the horizon my training schedule included trail marathons, an iron-man and a 45 mile ultra in the Brecon Beacons. I'm a super slow runner and love to chat as I go, eat food, explore beautiful places and meet interesting people - this makes ultra-distance running perfect for me! I also come up with some of my best ideas (like running the Te Araroa!) and have a sense of freedom and happiness when running on trails.

What other big runs have you done? Is this the longest? How did it compare to the Marathon de Sable?

The MdS is the longest event I had completed prior to coming to New Zealand. Whilst training for this I also completed the Pilgrims challenge which is 66 miles in 2 days, an awesome event in lots of snow the year I did it - perfect training for the Sahara!! The Te Araroa is by far the longest run I've ever done! MdS and TA are hard to compare really - it seemed more viable to push your limits for a week than 77 and a bit days! The MdS had regular check points where you re-filled with water, on TA we generally carried 3 litres with us at a time. Although MdS had searing heat, sand and rock there were no real difficulties with navigation or extreme ascent. The Te Araroa has a vast mix of incredibly challenging terrain with a lot of need to navigate and a huge amount of elevation gain. Te Araroa trail is the hardest physical and mental challenge I have ever done, and can ever imagine doing!

How did you prepare for this? Was there a specific training plan, or did you just run about a bit?

I had pretty much a year to train for the challenge. I started by making the decision to run every day as I felt this would help mentally and physically prepare me for the fact I have to run, no opt-outs allowed. I fitted this around teaching. With 5 months to go I had a training plan written for me based on Arthur Lydiard principals, I also incorporated an hours strength work class in each week. If anyone is interested my training diary is on my website www.runnz.org.

Day 26: 37km 10hrs57 1000m+ ascent.

2 drowned rats finally emerged from 2 days in the wilds! Back to 3 amigos!

What kind of support did you have for the run?

My husband James and brother-in-law Adam were my invaluable support crew. They are both long-distance runners and all round athletic people with a huge love of the outdoors. They took it in turns to either run with me or drive the support campervan (loaned to us by my mum and step-dad). My original plan (before Ad came on-board) was to do a lot of the trail solo, meeting James in the evenings. We had planned that he would join me for the more isolated multi-day mountain stages. Once Ad joined us it meant I could always have someone with me, which made the whole thing a lot safer and, for me, way more manageable. I can't imagine how much harder the low times would have been out there on my own. I have a huge respect for all the solo trampers we met along the way

On the North Island we pretty much were able to meet back at the van every evening (although we did 2 over-nighters in the Pureora Forest and the Tararua Ranges). This meant a big cooked meal and a comfy bed out of the elements. The South Island proved much more of a logistical challenge! It was a whole string of multi-day mountain stages where van access was impossible. We then had to carry everything we needed for these sections ranging from 2-5 days, including a tent. The boys carried a lot of the weight, their bags being around 20kg on the longer stages and mine 15kg. This was tough, especially with the amount of elevation we had to climb over such gnarly terrain! I loved being able to get to the van at the end of the day and only have to carry a light pack with water, food, water-proofs and some safety equipment. 

When James or Ad were on their van support day they would be non-stop with things like; food shopping, getting kit supplies, laundry, planning the next days run, looking at weather and any track changes, making up overnight meals, cooking, leg massages, finding a campground and sorting the van waste and water. The thought of all this exhausts me. Without their immense support I could not imagine surviving the relentlessness that this challenge involved. I am eternally grateful to them both!

Nutrition-wise, what goes down during the day? Are you scientific about your calorie intake, with lots of gels and energy bars, or do you take a more natural approach?

Gels and sports energy bars don't work for me - they make me feel sick! The general rule was: the more calories the better! For breakfast I ate 3x bread & butter and an avocado, or sometimes porridge. On the trail I had 5x cereal bars, a handful of licorice, nuts, dried fruits, cheese sandwiches/tortilla wraps with nutella, savory biscuits, salt & vinegar crisps and some jellybeans/skittles. In the evenings I grazed on chocolate whilst James or Ad prepared a huge, amazing, balanced meal - always delicious! This was followed by pudding - custard with a variety of things - fresh fruit, dried fruit, tinned fruit, christmas pudding, or just on its own!

I started losing weight after the first couple of days so we added in a couple of build-up drinks a day too. We managed to stabilise it for most of the North Island but once we hit the South, with all of the multi-day sections away from the van, it was harder. I lost just under 6kg over the whole run - I'm now working on putting that back on! 

Day 39: 39km 16hrs29 2050m.Spectacularly long tough day.

Tararuas your beauty was almost too much for my heart to take

Are you still a committed vegetarian? How do you find recovery day after day without meat?

Yes I am! Is meat important for recovery?! I find beans, eggs, chocolate and milk powder with everything does the trick! 

Your route covers a huge variety of terrain, from sandy beaches to muddy forest to rocky mountain track. What's your favourite terrain to run on? And the worst? I can't imagine sand to be much fun.

I loved the variety - I would have gone mad if it had all been the same! I really enjoy open beech forests, especially technical descents, but not too many roots/obstacles!! The worst has to be giant tussocks (bigger than Adam) with hidden spear grass that slices your legs as you try to bash through!! There were lots of these sections where you push so hard you are sweating but only making 1.5km per hour!!! The nightmares are still occurring! 

Day 54: Reached the 2000km mark today. Celebrated by dancing on some snow!

Jez Bragg (the current record holder) famously caught giardia and got swept away by a swollen river. Did you have any close shaves or mishaps or did everything go to plan?

Hmmm. Well, we did have a capsize on the Wanganui River - thankfully James & a friend Greg managed to retrieve my kayak, paddle and kit as it went sailing off down the rapids! Ad managed to hold onto his! At one point in the Redhills I thought Ad might have fallen from a ledge we were sidling along, high above the river....thankfully he had just got further ahead of me than realised so my panic only lasted 5 minutes! There were so many river crossings, the biggest was the Ahuriri which, after scouting out the best place for around 40 minutes as the sun was going down, we attempted. After getting 3/4 of the way across realised the final section was way too fast and deep to safely cross, so we had to back-track. We were then freezing and it started to rain so put on all our layers and started the long 7km detour towards the bridge in order to make it to the van - we had been going since 5am and had already done 64km! We navigated in the dark, managed to avoid a powerline that was down across the path and make it to the van for 11pm! An example of one of the many insane days on this trail!

Day 67: 57km 17hrs50.TOUGH day!South Island your brutality makes me ask why

...then you show me the answer!Thank you!

Tell us a bit about the charities you’re raising money for and why you choose them?

New Hope Rural Community Trust is an incredible organisation that tirelessly works to better the lives of so many people in India. The scope of their work is wide, with a developing focus on supporting children affected by HIV. James and I visited New Hope back in 2011 and have had the honour of being trustees since then. I am raising money specifically to support the young adults New Hope care for, through their further education/apprenticeships. By having a good level or education these children will go on to have a much greater chance of securing quality employment. This in turn provides them with financial independence and the chance of a bright future. I would love to raise 5,000 GBP which would secure 22 young adults through a year of further education. So far I have raised 3,515 GBP. 

Starship Children's Hospital is an amazing organisation that provide invaluable healthcare for children within New Zealand and from the surrounding Pacific Islands. When I first moved to Auckland I started volunteering in the school at Starship where I saw first-hand how amazing it is. I am specifically raising money to secure the purchase of a 3D transthoracic scope which will be used to diagnose children with heart conditions. The current 2D scope requires the child to have an anesthetic, this new scope alleviates the need for this and so is far better for the child. The scope costs $10,000. So far I have raised $7061.

How are your feet and legs today? Is that an epic sun tan or just dirt?

The swelling in my feet is finally going down - which means I can fit into more than 1 pair of shoes! The skin on my feet is super dry and cracks if I don't smother it is cream several times a day! The lichen-type texture that was growing on my souls has largely come off with a jolly good scrub! Only my big toe-nails are black and I have lost feeling in the end of 1 big toe - not too bad for all those Kms I'd say! 

As for the sun tan - it was largely dirt!

What’s next? Once your legs have recovered, have you got any more big runs on the horizon?

Haha, we will see! I will keep running! I would love to have children next so may wait till my 50's before planning my next big one! 

We reached Bluff!! We did it!! 3000km in 77 days 10 hours 44 minutes!

Thanks so much for all the support!

You can find out more about these incredible organisations, or make a donation, on Mina's website www.runnz.org

By Simon Kimber
Web Editor

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Simon Kimber
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Glovers Chimney a Cold Climbs Classic

My friend Mike (the UK rep for Boreal) came to join me in Scotland last week while I was on a family holiday. I had been granted a couple passes out to make the most of the amazing winter conditions that Scotland had been having. Having heard reports of great ice even to low levels, I got excited as I had always wanted to climb Quartzvein Scoop at Ben Udlaidh, and it is only 30 mins from where we were staying. However, as we arrived in Scotland the temperatures were on the rise, so I suggested Mike came up earlier than planned. Once he arrived we made an early start the next morning and decided to gamble that even though it was quite mild the “fat” ice that people had been climbing on Sunday would still be there on the Tuesday, especially if we were there at sunrise.

We walked in through mist and drizzle but it was 5 degrees in Glen Orchy. We should have called it a day there and then really but we plodded up into the Corrie to find the ice there but loads of black rock, running water and crashing down ice all around us!

We optimistically went to the bottom of the route and quickly decided it was no good. Frustrated but not surprised we took some easy ground to the top and walked off in the cloud and went home for bacon sarnies at the cottage.

Our second chance to get out was the Thursday and the forecast was still mild at low levels but reading up on UKC and speaking to the conditions geek that is my my brother James he suggested that the only place to go is the Ben, and he was right, It didn't disappoint. We thought that to avoid any chance of being let down we would go high and made our way to Glover’s Chimney (III, 4), which is a Cold Climbs classic that I had had my eye on for a while.

As we got to the CIC hut it was clear that the conditions were great all round. Plenty of people were there but luckily there was only one other party on our route. After an initial ice pitch there are quite a few steep snow/ice pitches before the ground steepens and turns into the rocky mixed chimney that takes you right onto Tower Gap.

Mike had the lead for this pitch and he cruised it with style, I followed him up and then made my way out along the remainder of Tower Ridge (tricky move getting out of the gap!) to the summit all in very thick cloud by this point. We had a celebratory Mini Babybel before getting the compass out to make our way out of the cloud and down the Red Burn.

By Rob Turnbull
Managing Director

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The Big One Central Grooves VII 7

In mid-January after a slow, warm start to winter, Britain went into the freezer. Reports warned of bad weather and ice and told us to “please take care” - the perfect incentive for every adventurous climber to lose sleep, check conditions updates 4 times a day and plan trips north. Or is that just me?

With snow to sea level, clear skies and temperatures dropping to minus 14 in the glens, an extra day had to be taken on top of my normal days off (thanks Danni!). Rich and I headed to Scotland with higher levels of psyche than normal (is that possible?). We didn't need to talk, we knew the main goal of our trip but we quietly put it off for a day and chose a crag with a short walk in and an awesome warm up before the main event.

Rich approaching Messiah

We parked the van at the Bridge of Orchy and the next morning headed in to Beinn Dorain. Normally there are a choice of routes to look at but there were no choices today for us today, it was only ever going to be Messiah (VII 7). Neither of us had climbed this grade before; would it be a good first route of the season?

Crux first pitch they say? Rock, scissor, stone is the only fair decider: I win, I get first pitch, GULP! Many of you avid blog readers may have realised I’m not a bad winter climber, when seconding! I usually fire my winter rope guns up the hard bits but today will have to be different.

James on the crux hand traverse

The first pitch heads up a turfy groove, not too hard but precarious, with not quite enough gear for my liking. Then the meat of it, the hand traverse. I had heard a lot about this and it sounded good as I would get to use my hands. An age is spent fiddling gear in before committing to the verglassed jugs and tiny foot holds leading to the sanctuary of a turfy ledge. As I finally go for it I go no holds barred, and at the moment of no return realise I've become tangled in my last runner. I pull it out, can't go back now! The turf is bomber and I’m relieved to be on the belay ledge.

Stunning afternoon light

Rich follows and kindly doesn't find it too easy – you’re next Rich. He sets off up the second pitch and quickly realises that it will be a big one to the summit, this is where we should have read the guide book! “Climb a steep ice wall and ice grooves above”, we thought we were doing a mixed route and had only brought 2 screws for the hell of it! He sets off anyway completely out of sight but making good progress. The rope comes tight and I climb. As I climb over the second bugle and take his first screw out, I see the groove is totally iced up, improving climbing but limiting gear unless you have screws. Rich had done a 15-20m run out up steep thin ice and not placed the other screw. I congratulated him on the top and asked why he didn't place it, he said “I was saving it in case it got desperate”. I love my ice rope gun!

A great walk out

Pork pies, beers, day 2. The big one.

We had no other routes in mind, we took no screws: it was time. We had always talked about Central Grooves (VII 7) in Stob Coire nan Lochan - the guide book said it may be the best mixed route in Scotland, Dad said it was probably the best and hardest thing he did back in the day (he lead the whole thing with leashes and old clobber!). Today we were GOING to climb it.

The hard snowy approach to Central Groove

We walked in through thick powder breaking a fresh trail all the way. It was hard going and when we reached the Coire it was a feeling I don't think I’ll ever forget. There was no wind, no clouds, no sound, no people, no foot prints and no doubts, just a bitter cold I hadn't felt without a wind chill before in Scotland.

Another stunning day

The crag was buried and the snow so deep I felt it looming over us, the only thing watching us. We made the slow, deep slog up to the route. We had discussed what was to happen next - there are 3 hard pitches and Rich is better at this stuff so I persuaded him to take 1 and 3.


The Man! Rich leading the first bold pitch | James following; only one set of footprints!

He set off slowly, pitch one, the bold one. Loads of snow made the idea of a fall bearable, just. Hard moves off the deck and never an easy one until the ledge, scary run outs and small hooks and torques. The thing of dreams, or nightmares, your choice, I’m on the blunt end!

Right then, my turn, a steep corner, I don't mind steep, less likely to hit anything in the event of a fall. Today everything is on our side, I’m slow but confident, good gear, small edges for feet and slim cracks for axes, a comfy belay ledge too, (once I dig it out) this really is dream material. I have lead my part and now I can relax and enjoy the ride, or so I thought. 


Footprints receding as Rich follows up pitch 2

Rich climbs to me and I take pictures of the empty perfect Coire, only to find once I studied the picture I spot a lone skier! we only noticed the tracks later in the day. They must have had a dream run down Broad Gully back to the car!

Spot the lone skier!

The 3rd and final hard pitch. The moves to leave the ledge are as hard as anything on the route and Rich chips small mono points on the tiny icicle coming down from the groove for his feet. These are crucial for the next moves and the start of another stunning technical pitch with (just!) enough gear.

Rich on pitch 3

He climbs round the overhang and out of sight but when he shouts my heart sinks. “I’ve found some tat, think it’s a belay.” I shout back, “how does it look above?” knowing my final pitch is meant to be easy. He replies, “Steep and still hard! I’m belaying here”. Oh dear, not over yet. As I reach the belay I look up, I was meant to only get one hard pitch but above it is steep with good gear and I’m ready for it! Anyone who abs here has NOT finished the route.

The steep finale is great and I’m soon on the easy but deep snow slopes to the summit, for once this winter trip, I'm not just a passenger! We were blessed with an amazing day to climb the most sought after route. Every move was tech 5 -7 and an incredible experience. Chuffed does not sum it up, the lack of people at one of Scotland’s more popular crags made this something to remember.

The next day felt like a little extra bonus, we had had our fill but still had time. The forecast was worrying, not for the climb but for the journey home so we decided to keep it short. We chose Beinn an Dothaidh, North East Corrie and the classic Cirrus (IV 4).

The approach looked easy but deep drifting snow made it a nightmare. The route looked thick, it is, but not with ice but with snow. Maybe a bad choice as we dig up to the first ice step and pull up on crud, no gear but it feels easy after the last few days.

A great route if not in great nick but a fun short day and back to the car before 2pm. Good job too - the drive home would have not happened if we had been any later as it dumped snow on the Snake Pass which then closed just behind us.

An amazing trip and one I’ll never forget, however the home freezer lasted until the time of writing and more fun was to be had a lot closer to home…


Big Tick, Big Grin | A pork pie filled weekend

By James Turnbull

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Mam Tor Ski and Snowboard 2015

Every now and then we get some fantastic winter conditions here in the Peak District. If you're keen enough (and lucky enough!) there's some fantastic (well, alright, fairly mediocre) winter climbing to be had on Mam Tor and Back Tor, and if you're really lucky there's even some ice pitches to be had on the Kinder Downfall. Ski-touring is also possible across the high moors of Kinder and Bleaklow.

Rob and James are like two excitable puppies at the first sniff of snow, and they were out pre-dawn on Monday to get a few runs in on the flanks of Mam Tor, before rushing back to open the shop.

James Turnbul approaching the top of Mam Tor in the Peak District, in full winter conditions

James Turnbull approaching the top of Mam Tor

Rob and James Turnbull, psyched after skiing Mam Tor in the Peak District

Rob and James, never not psyched!

By Simon Kimber
Web Editor

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Simon Kimber
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