BY BEN McDRURY

Wild Things is here to inspire, equip and empower each other to get out and enjoy New Zealand’s epic trails.

A community, a go-to shop for essential running gear, a library of knowledge and a whole lot more. They partner with brands we love to get their members tasty discounts on everything from shoes to accommodation. Wild Things make it easy for you to explore trails with confidence using our comprehensive maps and directories.

Motivate yourself with challenges. Tap into the collective experience of your fellow wild things. Run, walk, crawl, it’s good to be wild.

Wild Things: New Zealand’s trail running community

I’m a Wild Thing

Hey Folks, my name is Ben McDrury and I’m a Wild Thing. I was born in Christchurch in 2002 and I grew up on a lovely lifestyle block beneath the mountains of Mount Thomas and Mount Oxford.

My family has always been into the outdoors. I think a lot of that comes down to our parents trying their hardest to get us out exploring what a wonderful world we have.

From a young age, we were often doing bushwalks through beach forests and the occasional overnight tramp. Eventually, we grew a bit (not too much in my case haha *cries*), and the tramps we did also grew in size.

We ticked off the Kepler (in less than ideal conditions—there is a tale that I may have been tied to a parent with a rope around the waist to stop me flying off the mountain). Next came the Routeburn, which is one of my favourites, and then of course the Milford was ticked off as well.

However, through growing up, I always managed to keep at least one foot on the ground at a time. That is, until July 2020.

We were fresh out of the first lockdown and wanting to escape our home for a bit. So off our family went to the adventure capital of the South Island: Queenstown. We had arrived at around 5pm, and after being in a car all day squished between too many boxes of food, I spontaneously decided to go for a run around the lakefront.

Who would have imagined that this run would change so many things.

I came back 6km later bubbling with excitement. I had felt free. Running through the trees that night is a feeling I will never forget.

That’s when Dad suggested I run from Queenstown to Frankton and back the next morning. And that is exactly what I did. I ran 16km. It was the furthest I had ever run in my life and I smiled the whole way. A fire deep inside of me was lit that day. 

So now that you know where it started, let’s do a quick life recap and fast forward to the present day.

(Add a hazy grain and increase speed x2.)

  • Valley Ultra 2020, 24km
  • Port Hills ultra 2021, 100km team event
  • Mount Difficulty half 2021
  • Valley Ultra 2021, 24km

There were also non-official events, such as an all-time favourite climbing four peaks in one day (Mount Oxford, Mount Richardson, Mount Thomas, and Maukatere/Mount Grey) with fellow Wild Thing, Matt Halverson.

And of course the 24hr fundraiser for Oxford Land Search and Rescue. I’d had so many adventures, but for me, this one meant the most: it was an accumulation of training and running over pretty much a one and a half year period; I was doing something I enjoyed; at the same time I wasn’t doing it for myself, I was raising money for an organisation that helped people like me when they needed it most.

That humbled me. Being there, climbing up and down again and again … yet all along there were people supporting me, encouraging me. It really was an eye-opener into the community I had stumbled upon.

And that’s it: the community. Wild Things. The Wild Things Facebook group, the people, the posts. The whole thing has changed me beyond what I thought. I never felt like I really connected with anyone in school, didn’t hang out with mates a lot, and never really felt included. This of course is a key development stage for teenagers, and I guess in a way, I was missing the social connections that I possibly needed.

The mountains don’t really care.

It has only been in the past year that I have found confidence in being myself. You see, the mountains don’t really care, they are going to be there whether I climb them today or tomorrow. They are a constant. People aren’t necessarily going to be there day after day. 

So for me, finding something that I can lose myself in and letting it wash away my insecurities gives me confidence in myself. Confidence that has carried over into normal, everyday life.

I have found that running has really become a coping mechanism for my emotions during the day. I like to say—and am proud of the fact—that I’m a pretty happy chap. I don’t usually lash out at all. However, I think that sometimes an inability to let the emotions go can often build up inside and make things worse down the line. 

So when I run, as much as it dampens my pride to say, sometimes it becomes my way of letting those emotions and feelings out. However, I think it also goes to show that it’s important for us to realise emotions aren’t a bad thing.

Feeling the trails flow blissfully underfoot and finding the rhythm of the body is pure ecstasy for me. It seems the most natural form of being human. The contact of my body against the earth, the feeling of connecting with the environment around me is something I truly cherish.

On a recent hike up Mount Thomas with my Dad we were discussing why I ran. For sure, it was by pure chance that I decided to run 16km from Queenstown to Frankton that day, but what made me carry it on? Why am I still running today?

I’ve thought quite a bit about this, even before Rob sent me an email. It is a complicated question but I think the answer is quite simple.

I am blessed with legs that move, with lungs that breath, with arms, and with eyes that see. So I feel it would be a waste if I didn’t put all these things to good use.

I run because my body allows me to.

There are people in this world, not necessarily through any fault of their own, who can’t run. They may be amputees, they may be limited to a wheelchair, blind, obese, they may have lung disease, who knows. The point is that there are people in the world that physically can not run. Their body will not allow them to.

So if I have a body that allows me to run, and yet I don’t, I feel like that makes me worse than them. Because I’m choosing not to use my body, whereas they don’t have a choice.

That is why I run, because others cannot.

Bringing this story back to me a bit, (sorry so self-centred of me) you may be wondering what’s next for you, Ben?

Whelp, that is indeed a very good question. There are of course the long-term goals and aspirations such as the Barkley Marathon, the Revenant, Godzone and Alpinism. However, these all have incredibly long journeys and subcategories within them.

I am taking a beginner navigation course in the coming months and have recently discovered the art of fastpacking, so I am hoping those will go hand in hand. I also plan on improving my rock climbing skills so that, eventually, taller mountains won’t seem so daunting.

Life, as always, is a journey, and I’m merely at the beginning of mine.

As we all have no doubt experienced, a range of thoughts can come and go when we run. We may reflect on how the day went, on what went well or what did not. Our minds may wander to the future, to our dreams and our aspirations. Or even things that worry us and make us anxious. Out there, on the trails, running freely also allows our minds to run free too.

Often I find it hard to talk out loud to people about these thoughts because I don’t know how to word it, or because I don’t know who to tell. So I’ve made a habit of writing down my thoughts after the run. I find it calming for me to write things down and it seems a much easier way for me to convey what I feel.

Those of you who follow my Instagram account may be aware that I often post these notes and thoughts with my photos. I choose to share my thoughts and feelings so people can talk about them, so they can take what they like from my experiences and perhaps think about how they feel after their own run.

It’s easy to see me as some bright and cheerful optimistic young kid (partially true, I’ll give you that) with minimal life experience, but if you could take anything away from me today it would simply be this:

Never underestimate the value of sharing how you feel after a run. There is a community of Wild Things out there, all of them incredibly supportive individuals. When sharing how you feel, even if it seems goofy, or if you simply want to share your struggles, be proud of yourself. Some of what you say may just be what others need to hear. By being more open and honest about why we run, about how we feel when we run and what it means to us, it allows us to learn about ourselves at the same time.

So I encourage you, every single one of you Wild Things, to write down how you feel after your next run. What emotions did you feel? What did you think about? How did it make you understand yourself better?

Whether you share it is up to you, but know that the rest of us may just benefit and also be able to offer advice if you want it.

As some legendary alpine-loving friend of mine once said, “We may be faster alone, but we shall go further together.”

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