I'd like to wax sentimental about a little community who make an unlikely and yet wonderful thing happen: most Friday mornings, I meet a motley group of runners and walkers at the wee hour of 5:55 am in the lower car park of Titirangi to climb stairs. It’s a little bit punishing and a lot rewarding and I love that it exists, making Gizzy a little more of a heartthrob each week. (Me mihi ka tika ki te Mana Whenua Ngāti Oneone, te kaitiaki o Titirangi Maunga.)
Let me step back a bit so you don’t discount this as being “for serious runners only.” Yes, I’m a runner in that it’s my preferred method of fitness and wellness. But I’ve never done a serious thing in my life, running included and even I do Friday Stairs! I’m the chatty runner near the back of almost any pack. I often “just want to finish” a run. Lots of my body jiggles when I run. I don’t have time goals for races; instead, I want to “be the happiest one out there.”
And that’s a challenge for sure, because like anything physically demanding, sometimes I find myself falling into a blackhole somewhere in my brain or heart, along with every ounce of energy or motivation I’ve ever had or will ever have in the future. Sucked into that cosmic vacuum goes the desire to run whatever stupid race I’m stupidly registered to run later in the year. Suddenly I don’t even want to run to the next driveway. And surely you’ll be able to substitute your challenging thing in here, but running with people – even people faster than me, and there’s no shortage of those – has a power much stronger than the blackhole. The Friday Stairs smiles greet me and suddenly I’m as weightless as a bobbing pool toy, ready to blow away by even a suggestion of a breeze.
I am alarmingly out of breath when I arrive at the lower carpark from shuffling up the hill, but the
Friday Stairs peeps would never call attention to that. We might talk about the near miss with the alarm clock, still yawning with the sleep we haven’t quite shaken. With about a minute to go, we greet the new-comers (there’s always a fresh face), and we give everyone the lowdown about what’s about to happen. We also might have some news, like “Hey good luck to the people who are doing [insert thing] this weekend!” or “there are a group of us who are going to do a walk/run/whatever out at [insert place] so if you want to tag along…” The wonderful thing about Friday Stairs is it’s a gateway drug to the cool kids who know what’s up and where to go for free outdoorsy adventures. And there’s always room for one more.
Now it’s 6:01 and we head off to the first set of stairs. And while we’re all doing this together, it’s easy for walkers and runners of all speeds and fitness to join in because we all do our own thing. Think you’re too slow. Guess what? Nope. It’s less about keeping up with anyone and all about letting them be your buoys, even if it’s a “well done, Sarah” as they fly past. The speedsters might get 5 climbs in while the walkers might get 2. You know who’s counting? No one!
After about 10-12 minutes, we regroup at the lookout, whoops going out to each of us as we drag ourselves up those last two flights. Once everyone is together, we start off again, this time to the very top, either by trail or along the road. Are you pushing yourself this morning? Off you go, then. Feel like giving yourself a little break? Guess who’s judging you? You get it – no one.
We do that top staircase for another 10 or so minutes and then it’s time for our 6-7 minutes of core exercises. Again, everything is scaled so we do what we can, grunting and hanging on. I can practically hear the others saying, “Don’t you go in that blackhole!” Maybe they’re talking to me? Maybe to themselves. We’re all in it together and we’ll get out of it together, too. Just another
And then comes my favourite part of the week, the effortless victory run (jog) down the hill. Man, I never feel so gazelle-like as at 6:45 on Friday morning and Stairs are done. Nowhere do I feel more accepted as a “runner,” as heroic as Roger Bannister, despite being ridiculously underqualified and lacking all required heroism or toughness as when I’m flying (plodding) down that hill. It simply doesn’t matter that my friend, a literal gazelle, and I, a literal penguin, ran a significantly different amount of stairs this morning. We both got up and got here and did our literal best. The glorious Gizzy morning sky is shining down on both of us in the same way. We fought off the blackhole and are laughing about something, Friday Stairs done for another week, a whole week away until next Friday. We ride that runners high all the way to Raglan Roast and with the tail ends of those endorphins mixed with caffeine coursing through our veins, we head into our separate mornings all over Gisborne, as light as pool toys being carried away on the wind.
So that’s my love letter to Friday Stairs. And like objects of a love letter, you love them because they make you feel deserving and heroic and seen. I hope you’ll pop by and get to know the Friday Stairs, and the weekly sunrise that greets us on the maunga. And as beautiful as the sky’s pastel colours are, or the wintertime shimmer-bright constellations, so are the happy faces. We’re happy because you’re there.
Friday Stairs are free and open to walkers and runners of all speeds. We meet at 5:55 am at the lower car park every Friday, rain, hail or shine (barring dangerous weather).
Photos by Mike and Harry Roe.