Jez Bragg: Blazing a lonely trail with purity the prize

The ultra-runner will run 40 miles a day in traversing New Zealand and all for the love of it, he tells Matt Butler

Why would Jez Bragg choose to travel halfway around the world to run – yes, run – from the top to the bottom of New Zealand for no prize, accolade or trophy?

He will begin the 1,863-mile Te Araroa ("The Long Pathway") trail today and he aims to get to the bottom of the country in around 50 days' time. In between, he will run up to 40 miles per day along deserted sandy beaches, through muddy rainforests and over arid alpine ranges. Additionally there is an 80-mile canoe trip down the Whanganui river midway through the North Island and, if weather conditions are agreeable, another paddle across the treacherous, chilly 17-mile Cook Strait.

So why? For a start, Bragg, 31, is an ultra-runner. He loves nothing better than traversing a mountain range through the night or plotting a punishing course across some windswept moors or a coastal path. To Bragg, 26.2 miles is merely a decent start.

He is also very good at what he does; in 2010 he won the prestigious Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, a 101-mile race around Europe's tallest mountain which attracts 2,500 entrants yearly. The previous year he claimed a podium finish at the Western States Endurance Run, which is the most famous 100-mile race in the United States and attracts the cream of the ultra-running world.

But unlike Bragg's previous escapades, his run in New Zealand will not pit him against any other athletes. The only thing he will be racing is time. And it is for this reason he wants to do it: as he puts it, "for the purity of the sport".

"Wanting to run the Te Araroa came about from my love of off-road trail running," he said. "In training for the big trail races, I noticed that the parts where I had the most fun was when I was on long runs in remote places; I really enjoyed losing myself in the runs where the journey was more the point than the destination. This seemed like a true journey, the pinnacle of what I can do."

But in case Bragg's explanation conjures up images of a wandering hippy at one with nature, think again. Beneath the surface of the chilled-out endurance runner beats the steely heart of an athlete. He will not be the first to run the Te Araroa trail, which opened just over a year ago – an Australian, Richard Bowles, is currently running it and aiming for 60 days – but Bragg wants to be the fastest.

"Ultra-runners are pretty chilled out in the main," Bragg said. "Before races we chat and there are no big egos. But once a race starts, the angry man inside me comes out, to stoke the fire. You have to have that ruthlessness or there is not much point in starting any race. It would be nice to put down a marker and have the fastest time for the trail."

His sponsors, The North Face, are funding the trip. The outdoor clothing company invites its endurance runners every year to submit ideas for expeditions and earlier in 2012 Bragg's plan was accepted. While Bragg, a Brit who lives in Dorset and trains along the Jurassic Coast, concedes ultra-running will never have the mass appeal road marathons enjoy, he has noticed a huge upsurge in participants since he started 10 years ago.

While most ultra-marathon races offer little more than a hot drink and a T-shirt or oversized belt buckle, some have recently started offering prize money. The big purses are in the US, where there are three 50- or 100-mile races which offer $10,000 (£6,200) to the winner.

So how big will it get? Will it go the way of endurance cycling and get all the money and unwanted drug-cheat baggage that has harmed the sport? "It's never going to get like the big road races, because the distance and terrain are limiters in themselves," says Bragg.

"But if more people discover that trail running is fun, that can only be good. I can't see it going the way of cycling, to be honest. It would be desperately sad if it did. But I like it how it is, where people race for the love of the sport."

And you can't get a much deeper love for a sport than taking off halfway round the world to run from one end of a far-flung country to another. Just because it is there. And that is why he'll do it.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

COO / Chief Operating Officer

£80 - 100k + Bonus: Guru Careers: A COO / Chief Operating Officer is needed to...

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits