Friday, December 28, 2012


Have had a beautiful Christmas holiday week with the family in Queenstown.  It was so magical to be amongst the amazing mountains, baking in the scorching sunshine, and basking in the majesty of Central Otago.  Most of all, catching up with my sisters and parents after not seeing them all for a year was the best part of the trip.  We had a stunning Christmas day, complete with a festive feast of duck and roast vegetables, french pastries, champagne and antipasto.  I love excellent food!

Arriving in Queenstown after living in desperately flat farmed country side, was almost overwhelming.  I love feeling dwarfed by the mountains, their golden slopes towering out of the lake.  Being amongst the mountains that I grew up in, makes me feel really alive.

Invigorated and inspired by the fab landscape, I set out for my first run the morning after we arrived.  The blistering heat of the day before had been replaced overnight by moody cloud and drizzling rain, perfect conditions for me.  I woke early and started out before the sun had risen, and in the ethereal grey of dawn, I felt like the only person awake - I had the whole of Queenstown to myself.  My run took me all the way into Frankton and back, the return journey following the lakeside trail (19km return).  It was along this route that I discovered a map of the Queenstown trails.

I had heard about the trails when they officially opened earlier this year.  Over 100km of trails have been linked and mapped between Queenstown, Arrowtown, Lake Hayes, Gibston Valley and around the Wakatipu Basin.  I thought that running from Queenstown to Arrowtown would be picturesque and challenging, so the next day I bought some energy gels and chews (I had been meaning to try these for some time, and got a copy of the map to carry).  The shop assistant in R&R Sport was super helpful and recommended the route that he thought would make the most enjoyable and scenic run, he told me that he thought that the total distance would be equal to a half marathon.

Trail along Kawarau River at Sunrise
Bright and early the following morning, I set out.  Camelbak filled, and gels in my hip pockets, I was ready to run.  The first part of the trail followed Frankton arm, and then cut through Frankton township before heading to the historic Shotover bridge.  Parts of the trail in this area were dubiously marked, and I got lost a couple of times before meeting up with the trail just before the river crossing.  Marker arrows ambiguously pointing at junctions of three intersecting paths (rather than clearly marking the trail to take), and intersections with no markings at all made following the trail a bit challenging, as the trail progressed however, the markings became more frequent and clear.  I crossed the river over the Historic bridge before the sun crept over the peaks of the Remarkables, and then followed the trail around beside the Kawarau river.  The trail was well groomed and very comfortable to run on, and my early start ensured that the air remained cool well into the first two hours of running.

I had my first Gu energy chew after about an hour and then every half hour or so after that.  I didn't carry a watch to time the intervals between eating, but aimed to refuel before my energy levels lagged. Having never tried the gels or chews before I didn't know what to expect.  The chews were really tasty, easy to chew and swallow, and provided enough energy and caffeine to keep my mind alert and sharp, and my legs going.  I hydrated with mouthfuls of water, and never felt too "sloshy" or water logged on the run.

The trail followed the river bed for several km before climbing out of the river valley.  The uphill sections of the trail were a comfortable gradient, but rose quite high without reprieve.  I felt very proud to be able to maintain my pace over the steeper sections, it seems that my trail and hill work at home is having some positive effects on my fitness.  Through out the run, I kept looking down at my legs and thinking, "gosh, I am still going at quite a pace, I am doing quite well!" (I am in no doubt that the Gu could be thanked for maintaining my energy).  At one point a group of cyclists panted past holding their thumbs up for me as the went by me (head down, pushing ever upwards).  Reaching the summit of the last big climb was great, although the heat of the day was well on the rise.  I ran on across the golden paddocks of farm land, with amazing views of the mountains around me.

At the Arrow Junction, the signpost informed me that I had completed 20km and still had 8.8km to go.  I felt amazing.  I had run nearly the distance of a half marathon, but had so much more energy to keep going.  I had not flagged once on my run so far, and was pleased to keep going, knowing that I was going to set a new distance record for myself.  I walked along the road for a few hundred meters, taking the opportunity to admire the view, soak up the sunshine, suck on my bite-valve and slurp down my gel.  The energy gel went down really easily, sickly sweet and sticky, it reminded me of eating sweetened condensed milk as a child (similar consistency).  I had selected berry flavored gels and chews, and while I preferred the flavor and consistency of the chews, the gel gave me a bigger energy hit.  I will definitely use gels and chews for running fuel from now on, they make the run so much more rewarding and enjoyable.

The final part of the trail followed the Arrow River, and was in heavy use.  After crossing a couple of bridges, plunging into welcome river-bank shade, and with only a couple of km (or so) to go, I started to get a bit tired.  I gobbled down a couple more chews, and pushed myself to continue running.  It felt really good to keep the effort up, and push right through to the end of the trail in Arrowtown.  I completed the 28.8km in just over three and a half hours.

I met up with the family and we traveled over to Wanaka for lunch and to do some tramping in the Matukituki Valley.  The day continued to get hotter and hotter, and I drank liters, but walking after all that running stopped my legs from getting stiff, and I had no soreness the next day.

On Christmas day, and with only one more full day to go, I decided that i wanted to run to Arrowtown again, but this time take the shorter trail that circled Lake Hayes.  Being Christmas, no shops that sold energy gels were open, so I thought that I would try and use wine gums and an energy substitute.  Another early start, and I nearly didn't go for the run, my calves were a bit sore, and the weather was humid and hotter than it had been for the precious run.  I persevered however, and after a few km my legs warmed up and the pain subsided.  The wine gums were no substitute for GU however, and although I am sure that they were better than eating nothing at all, they didn't keep me bouncing along.  The route itself, although shorter, was steeper and less picturesque.  I enjoyed the challenge of the steeper climbs, but felt a lot more tired and slower (also a product of taking on another long run so close to the last one).  It was probably a bit soon to run again, but I wanted to make the most of running in such a beautiful place.

I dragged myself into Arrowtown over three hours after I started (over a distance closer to 25km).  Again the signage on the trail confused me, with distance markers contradicting each other along the way.  I passed a sign reading 4.6km to Arrowtown, ran 500m down the road (closer to Arrowtown) and passed a second sign reading 5.7km to Arrowtown.  Overall, the reduced levels of energy and the residual tiredness made this run feel harder and less enjoyable than the first.  However, completing nearly 75km in such a short space of time is pretty good I think, and all that running has inspired me for future training - its amazing to think that six months ago, the idea of running a half marathon seemed impossible, and that after my half marathon, the 32km of the Routeburn Classic seemed as though it was going to be difficult to achieve.  I can see that continuing training, and lots of hill work will make running the Routeburn classic more achievable than I ever thought possible.  It is amazing what can be achieved.

Things I have learned from my long, holiday trail runs:

  • Carrying water is essential and fantastic
  • Drink before a hill and then once breath has been recovered after a climb - trying to drink while panting is hard and unpleasant
  • Energy Gels are amazing and worth while carrying and eating
  • Wine-gums are not energy gel substitutes 
  • Rest between long distance runs should never be skimped on
  • My Camelbak is perfect for running, those hip-belt pockets are so useful
  • Stretching and short periods of walking during a run are the best methods of keeping my legs limber and pain-free
  • Running in inspiring landscapes is captivating and addictive
  • The support of family, friends and strangers is uplifting and motivating
  • Keeping the legs and arms moving when exhausted leads to longer distances and better times
  • The Skins shorts and Mizuno trail shoes are perfect for me (if they are ever on sale, buy two!)
  • If I work hard and push myself I can achieve things I never thought possible

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