Josephine Anselin runs New Zealand

  • 27th March 2019
  • Physiotherapy, Running

In November 2016, Josephine Anselin left Scotland to run and hike New Zealand for 99 days, raising money for The Running Charity!

SPEAR physiotherapist, James worked with Josephine on some of the prep for her adventure and caught up with her during a clinic session in April, hosting a Q&A to learn more about her journey; including the idea, her motivation, food diary, training and mental and physical preparation for her time in the Wilderness!

One of the most important questions is how did this adventure evolve? How did you take the dream and transform into the actual adventure of a lifetime?

I first started thinking about this trip end of 2015 after watching the movie “Into The Wild”. At that point I knew I wanted to go on an adventure that would involve running, wilderness and self-sufficiency but I had not decided on the destination yet. Initially I thought about running the length of Japan (mainly because I love the Japanese culture), but as I was looking into potential trails I found out about the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand. The big advantage of that trail compared to my initial Japan idea was that there was already a route in place and since this was going to be my first solo long distance adventure I decided to go for the slightly easier (from a logistical point of view) NZ option. That was January 2016. It then took me over 6 months (and many discussions with my husband) to actually decide to hand in my notice and fully commit to this adventure. That was the hardest part. I knew I really wanted to go on this adventure and that part of me would always regret it if I didn’t but it was also a bit scary to leave my comfortable “bubble” and go off into the unknown. Once I had handed in my notice, it was finally “official” and suddenly this adventure that had been a dream up to now was to become real.

How were you able to plan the trip, prepare for it and what did the training consist of? 

There were two main parts to my preparation: 1) The “logistics” part and 2) the physical training part. I love organising things so the logistics part (which involved the travel paper work, sorting out the route, maps, gear list, etc) was not too difficult. I found some great resources online regarding endurance running gear and also got some really useful tips from friends who are into that kind of stuff. Regarding physical preparation, I have always been into long distance sports especially running so I already had quite a strong endurance base. During the four months leading up to the start I increased the distance of my long outings and trained with a backpack (although in hindsight, I should have done that a bit more).  A few weeks before leaving I also did a sports profiling session here which was super useful and I was given a set of tailored strengthening and stretching exercises to do every morning and evening during my run. That gave me a lot of confidence.  But I knew that it was going to be almost inevitable to completely avoid pains and niggles during a 3000km journey so I made sure I packed plenty of tape, tiger balm and painkillers…

What did you eat and how did you carry, cook and prepare your meals following such long days?

I actually went to see a sports nutritionist before leaving to understand what I would have to focus on to avoid long-term muscle fatigue. That was also really helpful as before talking to her I had not realised how important it would be for me to take in enough proteins to make sure my muscles could re-generate despite the constant effort. What I ate varied a bit every day depending on what I could find in shops but in general it was something like this:

Breakfast: oats with nuts, dried fruit and dark chocolate

During the day:  nuts, dried fruit, salted crackers

Dinner: instant mashed potatoes or couscous with tuna and seeds or cheese, carrots, crackers

The main challenge was to find foods that were nutritious but didn’t weigh too much. In the North Island I carried between 3 and 5 days of food and in the South Island, which was much more remote, I carried between 5 and 10 days of food. The good thing was that I usually carried food for one extra day (just as a safety precaution in case a certain stretch took me longer than expected), but I never ended up needing it so on the last day before getting into a town I could always have double portion of everything! When I got to towns I was always craving fresh food so I would usually refuel on big salads and fruits.

What were your thoughts on the plane leaving the UK, the unknown and how did you manage the jet lag/ time zone changes with the trip?

I was SO scared when I was sitting on that plane! The weeks leading up to that had been so busy I didn’t even have time to think about being scared, but once I was on the plane it suddenly hit me that this was very real and there was no turning back now. My main worry was that I had picked up a back injury two weeks before which had improved a lot but was still hadn’t completely healed yet, I was really worried that it would get worse as soon as I started running and that I would have to stop after a few days… (Luckily that didn’t happen!). The jet lag wasn’t actually an issue and I felt great as soon as I got to NZ. I landed in Auckland where I spent one day before travelling North to Cape Reinga (where I was starting the run) over 2 days. These 3 days gave me plenty of time to acclimatise.

Injuries are part and parcel of training; did you have any injury worries on leaving to embark on the journey?

Yes, as I said I had picked up this lower back injury two weeks before leaving and I don’t think I have ever had so many physio, sports massage and ostheopath sessions than during those two weeks but it definitely helped!

Whilst in New Zealand…. what were the top three highlights for you?

Difficult question! I would say:

1)  Running on the 90 mile beach (that is at the very start). I ran on that beach for 3 days. Most people would have probably found it monotonous but I just had a smile on my face the whole time. I was just so happy that this was finally happening (and that my back was not hurting anymore)!

2)  Climbing up Mount Rintoul in the Richmond ranges (it’s a mountain range at the top of the South Island). The scenery was just stunning, I was completely by myself and it was super challenging from a physical point of view. I don’t think I have ever felt such a sense of freedom.

3)  Swimming in Lake Hawea. That day it was so hot and I had covered just over 35km of really hilly terrain. I ran out of water for the last couple of hours and I was sweating buckets and when I finally got down the hill I went for a swim in the crystal clear lake. It was so cold but it felt so amazing! And the best thing was that there was a café nearby that was making the best ever pizza…

Who were the most interesting people you met?

I met so many people during this trip and I was so impressed with how hospitable everyone was. Before leaving I was a bit worried about travelling by myself, I thought I would get lonely but in reality I have never felt as connected to people as during that time. Towards the end of the South Island we camped in the garden of a farmer one night, at that point Kenny (my husband) had joined me for two weeks over Christmas and New Year.  The Farmer invited us to have dinner with his family and it was just so interesting to hear about their lifestyle on a farm. I also met a guy who had just come back from walking across Australia and was now walking across New Zealand (and was planning on walking the length of South America after that)…

Did you ever get into any danger?

Not in big danger but there were a few sketchy moments… Like for example once in the South Island I had to cross an un-bridged river, it had been raining on and off for the last few days and the current looked strong. The safe move would have been to wait until the water level fell again, but I knew that there was heavy rain forecasted for that evening so if I didn’t cross now I risked being stuck on the wrong side of the river for a couple of days. I started crossing and the water level was up to my hip. My hiking poles (which I was using as anchors to move forwards) were vibrating because of the current strength, then as I was about halfway across it suddenly got much deeper and I had water all the way up to my chest with pretty strong current. At that point I got pretty scared but since I was already halfway across there was no point in turning back! I made it to the other side but I realised that I had probably been quite lucky.

How did you face adversity whilst away? I understand your husband joined you and left during the trip to return to work how did you manage this?

Yes Kenny joined me for just over two weeks over Christmas and New Year, it was amazing to share part of my journey with him, but when he left it took me some time to re-adjust and get used to not being with him anymore. Throughout the three and a half months I had many ups ,but also some inevitable low moments where I really missed my friends and family and where I just wanted to go home and stop having to worry about where I would pitch my tent and how much food I had to carry… But during those moments there are two things that really kept me going: 1) I did this run to raise funds for The Running Charity and I had received support from so many people so I felt that if I gave up I would let them all down and 2) deep down I knew that if I didn’t reach Bluff I would always regret it so keeping the end goal in mind really kept me motivated.

What drove you to get up every morning and carry on when your body and mind were screaming for you to rest? 

The magical views! I loved getting up in the morning wondering what I would see that day and where I would be pitching my tent that evening… It’s so different from “real life” where you are always operating in a very familiar environment.

Recovery strategies, can you talk me through what strategies you found helpful to manage injuries and also prevent injuries?

I mentioned the sports profiling session we did here a few weeks before I left, that was super helpful! Every morning after having had breakfast and packing up my tent I would spend 10-20min doing this exercise routine and then I did about 10min of yoga poses. Every evening after having set up camp I would do the same (unless it was raining or too cold). It was great to have James and Sanford’s (Aberdeen Sports Massage) support during the trip, that definitely helped and I also had a trigger point ball which was really useful to massage my back, glutes, calfs and hamstrings. When I got to large enough towns I always tried to get a physio or sports massage appointment too.

Since returning, what impact on your body has this experience had? 

Body’s are funny machines! During the last weeks of my run I felt great, I felt like my body had become used to the daily mileage and to not get much rest, so I assumed that I wouldn’t really feel tired when coming home and that I would be able to straight away start training for my next event. But once I got back to Aberdeen I suddenly felt really exhausted! For about three weeks I felt like I constantly had a cold and I didn’t feel 100%. I think my body held up whilst I was in NZ (because it knew it had to) and once I got back it gave in a bit. I think it just needed a good rest and I’m back to normal now!

What advice would you give any of the clients reading this and either thinking about embarking on an epic journey or have already signed up for one, what would you advise them?

If you are thinking about it, stop thinking and just get after it or time will pass and you will regret not taking action! If you are struggling with committing to a long term goal because it seems unachievable here is my advice: 1) Make your goal public, tell your friends and family about it, that will make you feel accountable for it; 2) put together an action plan which breaks your big long term goal into smaller manageable chunks. Just focus on what you can influence and work on today rather than getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of your goal and 3) have a good think about what your motivation for doing it is (is it to prove something to yourself, to raise funds for a charity,…?). If you are clear about the why it will help you get over low points when you lose your motivation.

And if you have already signed up, that’s awesome! I would say that preparation (i.e. following a training plan, getting your nutrition right, getting the right gear) is key before the event but once the event has started you need to learn to be flexible, to listen to the signs your body gives you even if that means doing things slightly differently than what you originally intended.

Motivation to completion…. what one phrase or quote got you from the north to south of New Zealand?

“Relentless forward progress”. There were times where progress was so slow (because of super muddy trails or steep terrain or bad weather) and instead of getting frustrated with myself I would repeat this phrase; as long as I was making progress (in the right direction) I was happy.

Would you ever do it again and what’s next for our favourite ultra ultra runner?

YES! This has been one of the best experience of my life! Whilst I was in NZ I decided that I wanted to cross the world’s 50 largest islands by human power. I think I know what the next one will be but it’s not 100% decided yet so I don’t want to give it away yet… In the meantime I’m doing some fun trail runs in Scotland and I have started cycling a bit more again.

If you want to read more about Josephine you can check out her blog where she shares tips and inspiration on long distance running and cycling.