Early this year I reported that I had entered the Routeburn Classic – a 32km trail run over one of New Zealand’s Great Walks.
Well unfortunately from about the time I entered training has been constantly interrupted including by pneumonia in January, a solid ankle sprain about four weeks (okay, I admit trying to run down a bush track stair case in the dark after work was not a good approach to making up for lost time) and a fairly relentless start to the year workwise.
With that context as the backdrop, I found myself getting home around 10pm on Thursday to pack for a whirlwind trip to NZ. It was probably good I didn’t have a lot of time to think about what I was doing, because I would have missed out on what turned out to be a fabulous experience.
We flew out early Friday morning for Queenstown, leaving behind horrendous storms in Sydney and hoping that they wouldn’t hit NZ before we were done.
The flight into Queenstown has to be up there with the best arrivals in the world. Flying over the Southern Alps always brings me an instant sense of relief and by the time you step off the flight under the shadow of the Remarkables range and breath in the fresh air you are instantly miles away.
At the airport in Queenstown we were met by “tail end Charlie” who has run the Routeburn 43 (now 44) times and comes along behind to make sure no one is left off. I decided making friends with him was a good idea …
Charlie was also meeting two other “competitors”. In small talk we were asked where we were hoping to come. Somehow I had overlooked that this was actually a competitive event. One of the guys we were waiting with responds with “first”, and then when asked what time he was aiming for – under 2hrs 45mins! Yes 32km over a mountain on bush, rock and you name it in under 3 hours. I guess he wasn’t wearing NZ national sporting colours for nothing …
As for me, at this point I was still wondering if I could make it, and the thought of a long weekend relaxing in beautiful Queenstown held high appeal.
But no! After a swift transition with only enough time to pick up the customary Patagonia New Zealand ice cream (call anything Patagonia and I’ll go crazy for it), we were aboard a mini bus full of competitors heading to Te Anau for the pre-briefing.
The race organisers went to a lot of effort with the pre-race briefing which was kitted out to reflect the race theme of a “hero’s journey” – think lots of superheroes and masks / capes for all competitors…
I was told it was important to have the right nutritional preparation for the event and enough energy on board to carry me the 32km, so figured a pre-race dinner of champions was in order – New Zealand lamb and a couple of local beers did the trick and left me looking forward to a good night of sleep.
That went well until the “doof doof” of the Te Anau party scene rocked me awake at midnight. Needless to say, by the time I stumbled onto the race bus in the dark around 530am (330am on Sydney time), I was primed for the event.
As we drove out from Te Anau I was optimistic about the conditions, but that became more difficult as the rain gradually came down more steadily. By the time we got off the bus, still in semi-dark, it was officially wet. After 15mins standing in the porta-loo queue getting cold and drenched through I was genuinely contemplating getting back on the bus …
The good news is we stuck it out and show went on. The race started out down the road a ways in an attempt to space people out. I joined the section for people looking to complete the event in 6 hours which proved very accurate (although that attempt to space people only resulted in a queue at the starting hill instead).
The event itself turned out to be fantastic. Notwithstanding rain most of the way, bitter cold and wind blowing the water sideways along the track, it was a great experience. We have attempted bits of the Routeburn hiking many times, but until now have never completed the track end to end for a variety of reasons.
This time around it was done in just under 6 hours, following a last ditch rush to the finish line.
The beer supplied upon crossing the line and post race dinner in Queenstown made it all worthwhile!