Snapshots from The WILD’s V5000 Race

Bryon Powell, Meghan Hicks, and Eszter Horanyi share scenes from the Pioneer Edition of The WILD’s V5000 race on the South Island of New Zealand.

By on December 27, 2023 | Comments

The iRunFar team running the Pioneer Edition of The WILD couldn’t have been better timed with iRunFar columnist AJW’s announcement of his upcoming Under the Radar Races article series. The series aims to highlight locally owned and operated, non-profit races, that folks can easily get into with the originating idea of sharing “lesser known ultras that deserve attention from runners.”

With three of members of the iRunFar team – myself, Meghan Hicks, and Eszter Horanyi – running this year’s The WILD, based out of the small town of Arrowtown, New Zealand, it’s clear that the race hits these marks as well as standing out as an event on its other merits.

2023 The Wild V5000 - Shotover River

The Shotover River around mid-course on the 2023 V5000 race at The WILD. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Let’s begin with a little background behind the event. Race founder/organizer Malcolm Law found inspiration for the event when he ran a “Softrock” of the Hardrock 100 course half a decade ago. He thought to himself, we’ve got some real wild mountains around where he lives in Wanaka, New Zealand, which is an hour north of Arrowtown, with nothing but mountains in between the two towns.

While he quickly got to work on the idea, COVID-19 and then a last-minute cancellation of the inaugural edition of The WILD last year when a contract race organization went under meant that the event’s first running would take place in 2023.

Beyond that, the race is organized under and for the non-profit The Wild for Nature Trust, which is committed to restoring the native landscapes that have been greatly reduced in the mountains between Arrowtown and Wanaka. Aside from the native vegetation the organization has already planted and the funding it will provide to such efforts, the event organized a wilding pine (invasive, nuisance plants) pulling event on the Thursday before the races, removing some 7,000 pines.

2023 The Wild - Beech Forest

One of the sections of native beech forest along The WILD V5000 course.

As for the running, this year The WILD included five races ranging from nine kilometers up to a planned 85 kilometers. Unfortunately, extreme wind on the ridges meant that the 85k V5000 race, named for the race’s 5,000 meters of vert, was moved to the 75k backup course with “only” 4,000 meters of climbing. It was in this alt-course V5000 that all three iRunFar runners took part.

In the rest of this article, we share the kilometer-by-kilometer perspectives of myself, Eszter, and Meghan.

Bryon – From the Start to 10k – The Right Kind of Excitement

Climbing up from the start in Arrowtown to Brow Peak, the day’s first summit, I chat with numerous runners. One mentions how exciting the start was. I reflect for a few seconds before agreeing … with a caveat.

It was the near perfect level of excitement, at least for me. There was no music. There was no shouting. But there was a buzz amongst the starters, supporters, and volunteers. Without an overwhelming din, conversations struck up across Butler’s Green, between longtime friends and complete strangers. Groups formed and dispersed.

There was a contagious positive energy growing through the crowd, but a calm, steady one. One that was more like a slowly enjoyed cup of hot coffee on a cold winter’s morning than a gulped down quad-shot espresso.

It was just right for me.

2023 The WILD V5000 - Meghan Hicks Start

Meghan Hicks at the start of the 2023 The WILD’s V5000.

Meghan – 14k – Ridge Running on Brow Peak and Beyond

Climbing to Brow Peak, the top of the race’s first climb, and running on the ridge beyond it for some five kilometers, the weather is calm and the morning light filters softly through the clouds. As we rise higher the world below us begins to look like a painting, not real life.

The mood among the people I am with as well as the many safety marshals on the ridge is light, and we all float along unburdened by the realities of life, the windstorm that’s forecasted later in the day, and the tired legs we’ll eventually have.

From the scenery to socializing, this is well and truly an idyllic couple hours of New Zealand mountain running.

2023 The Wild V5000 - Brow Peak ridge

The WILD’s V5000 runners on the ridge after Brow Peak.

Bryon – 30k – Descent from Mount Dewar

The views from that first prominent ridge line, soaring over Arrowtown and Queenstown, the tourist mecca to the southwest of Arrowtown, are stunning. Likewise, the tussock-lined singletrack on the ridge is a blast to run. However, the large tussocks make fully taking in the views a bit challenging for the most part.

Yeah, you continually get a sense of the awesomeness around you and fully take it in in snippets during a clearer stretch of singletrack or a slower bit of light scrambling, but there’s no continuous, full-on absorption of your surroundings. It’s undoubtedly a highlight of the course, but wait for it…

In contrast, there’s the doubletrack descent off Mount Dewar, which is the second major climb of the day. Some trail runners will complain about any stretch of dirt road, while others will sound off about runnable sections. This is both. I won’t complain about either.

In fact, this multi-mile descent on an easily runnable, entirely carless dirt road allows for easy observation of the mountains rising up from the glacial blue Shotover River oh so far below. Aside from the road and the occasional view of a small building in the distance, glorious wilderness stretches as far as the eye can see and the track underfoot allows one to take it in.

2023 The Wild V5000 - Skippers Road Descent

A view from the descent off Mount Dewar during The WILD V5000.

Meghan – 18k, 39k, and 59k – Aid Station Volunteers and Course Marshals

Remarkably, the modified-for-weather V5000 course, “just” 75k and about 4000 meters of climbing this year, has only three aid stations, located at roughly 18k, 39k, and 59k. The race will take me just under 13 hours to complete, meaning it is pretty long stretches between these respites of food, water, and the company of other people — the latter of which is really the best kind of aid.

My three visits to these aid stations no doubt lift up my day. The sheer number of volunteers at the aid stations and along the course is remarkable, and they are all so happy and dedicated to us runners’ forward progress. I am always in awe of the volunteerism in our sport, and The WILD volunteers are top of the line.

I especially love the costumes of the team at Heidi’s Hut, the first aid station; the high coordination of the Skippers Road aid station, the second aid station, which receives and sends runners from two different races in every which direction; and the adventurous spirits of the aid station volunteers at 8 Mile Creek Hut, the final aid station, who needed four-wheel drive vehicles and a high tolerance for that forecasted wind which blew with ferocity even in this valley location for hours.

Thanks so much to the dozens of volunteers who made my day of running so memorable!

2023 The Wild V5000 - Lupines

A patch of lupines just after the great volunteers at the 8 Mile Creek Hut aid station on the V5000 course of The Wild.

Eszter – 54k – Coronet Loop Trail Challenge

I was admittedly gutted when Mal, The WILD’s race founder, made the difficult decision to run the V5000 on a weather-shortened course due to an incoming weather front promising high winds. Out was the big off-trail ridge traverse from Vanguard Peak over to Advance Peak, in was the Coronet Loop Trail mountain bike track, tucked in the valley under the ridge.

This would be fewer kilometers, much less climbing, and significantly less stupid factor … not great for those foot-sporters such as myself whose main weakness in the sport of ultrarunning is making the actual running motion. But, lemonade out of lemons, we got to share a bunch more miles with the V3000 runners on their course in the final third of our run.

Somewhere in there, in the middle of a pity party I am throwing for a party of one, walking up a four-percent mountain bike grade wishing I had my mountain bike, a woman from the V3000 who I’d passed just a few minutes before comes running by me. “Don’t worry,” she tells me, “You’ll pass me back, I’ve just set myself a goal of running for five minutes before walking again.”

I watch her jog away from me.

Fine, I think.

I switch from walking to jogging and catch up to her. “Do you mind if I join you for your challenge? This running business is hard!”

People race for a lot of reasons. I’m honestly not sure of mine. But being reminded that I can do things that I don’t believe I can, like actually run when I really don’t think I can, has to factor into it somewhere. And in a race setting that attracts the best sort of people, like The WILD did, it’s fun to be surrounded by those who will push us.

Bryon – 55k – More Coronet Loop Trail Camaraderie

Somewhere before the long, grinding mountain bike track that slowly climbs up the Deep Creek drainage Konrad, Gyuri, and I fall mostly in sync. We are all moving well, in good spirits, and seemingly moving better for the company.

The duration of the race is long enough that, while working, we can carry on a conversation the whole way. We chat about our life histories, careers, past and future adventures, and some fishing as well.

Even if it continually surprises me, I love these trail runner conversations with folks I didn’t know previously, out in the wilds of an event. While I love the reassuring embrace of chatting with longtime friends at familiar events, there’s a welcoming openness when something similar happens far from home with total strangers. This was a highlight of running the Kesugi Ridge Run in Alaska in August and again at The WILD.

2023 The Wild V5000 - Coronet Loop Trail camaraderie

Running when it’d be easier not to with Gyuri on the Coronet Loop Trail, a mountain biking track.

Bryon – 75k – The Finish Line Scene

A lightly but sufficiently stocked tent is set up just past the finish line. In it sit anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen recent finishers while a handful of volunteers cheerfully take care of us. Outside of the finisher’s corral lays the rest of Butler’s Green, a large open field with plenty of chairs, a few food vendors, our drop bags which have already returned to the finish, and the Altitude Brewing tent as well as a few dozen people sitting or wandering around.

I grab my free finisher’s beer with a new friend before finding a seat in the grass while waiting for friends to finish. I can’t remember whether or not there’s music playing, but an announcer calls out incoming finishers before asking most of them a few questions on the mic.

The ambiance is decidedly chill. It’s grassroots. It’s community. For a couple hours, we hang out with friends old and new, I enjoy a second beer and some finishers’ pizza, and kids run around happily. Even when the rain starts, hardy New Zealand runners and friends simply don rain jackets and keep hanging out.

This is just what I want at the finish of an event — a place to calmly relax with fellow finishers and the broader community a race brings together.

2023 The Wild - Finish on Butlers Green

Bryon (left), Eszter (middle), and fellow V5000 runner Konrad (right) enjoying a beer at the finish.

[Editor’s Note: This article is sponsored by The WILD. Thank you to The WILD for its sponsorship of iRunFar, which helps to make iRunFar happen and free for all to enjoy. Learn more about our sponsored articles.]

Bryon Powell

Bryon Powell is the Founding Editor of iRunFar. He’s been writing about trail running, ultrarunning, and running gear for more than 15 years. Aside from iRunFar, he’s authored the books Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running, been a contributing editor at Trail Runner magazine, written for publications including Outside, Sierra, and Running Times, and coached ultrarunners of all abilities. Based in Silverton, Colorado, Bryon is an avid trail runner and ultrarunner who competes in events from the Hardrock 100 Mile just out his front door to races long and short around the world, that is, when he’s not fly fishing or tending to his garden.