Advertised as 'Flat out beautiful' they aren't lying! Well, about the beauty anyway! The multiple times when I was struggling throughout the marathon, I would look around and be in awe of the beautiful environment. Those magnificent mountains, winding rivers and shimmering lakes can distract from the most exhausted legs.
Before the day of the marathon came round I already felt very confident that this was going to be a great event. Each participant has access to a personalised copy of the route map with target times at various locations during the marathon (above pic). You can also get a wrist band with your expected times at certain distances which you collect from the very well constructed athlete 'check in' the day before. All of the organisation seemed really smooth so at least all my worries and anxiety were only based on my own actions.
The start line was in a stunning setting at a swanky golf course, not my usual Saturday morning hang out! The sun was out and I couldn't have asked for better weather. Everything was going to plan. I woke up excited about the race, got to the start with plenty of time and felt ready for action.
I felt so ready in fact that once the start gun went I felt like I was flying. My body felt strong, my legs were fresh and I was chatting to people having the time of my life. I kept looking at my watch and knew the pace was fast. But I felt like it was so easy that I assumed my watch was wrong or I was a superhero! What an idiot.
Flying, flying, flying, was followed by...
PAIN, PAIN, PAIN!
By the time I got to 17km, the little group I was running with slowly pulled away from me. I felt like I was grasping for them with all my power, trying to grab hold of them with an invisible lasso. But they left me. In my very detailed game plan I concocted, (which included running about half a minute per kilometre slower for the first 10km!) I intended to have my first energy gel at about 25km. As my new friends left me for dead and my legs gave up the ghost, I had no option but to chew on my small packet of sugary snot about an hour earlier than planned.
Everybody that enters a running race knows not to go off too fast at the start. Especially me. What a plonker!!!
After starting at the golf course, you follow roads winding around rugged mountains for a short while before dropping onto the Queenstown Trail. The trail follows the picture perfect Arrow River for about six kilometres before joining an undulating road heading towards Lake Hayes. You pretty much circumnavigate the whole lake on hard trails and boardwalks, in which you tackle the steepest hill of the whole marathon, and then pop out the north side for some more road running. This is where it all went to pot for me!!
For the first five or so water stations I would grab a cup of water and try to throw it down the hatch while still running, thinking I was a pro and not wanting to lose time. After half way that plan had been scrapped too. I decided to stop and hang out at the stations slowly drinking water, trying to breathe and wondering what on earth I was doing.
Back onto the beautiful Queenstown Trail, the marathon then followed the Shotover River all the way to Lake Wakatipu (pics above and below). I would love to say that I was taking in every detail of the surrounding environment, lush green trees, flowing clear water, gigantic enticing mountains.... but, by this point I was completely in my sugar fuelled, very narrow, channel of focus. Which was mostly focused on convincing myself to move forward and not get slower.
A lovely treat was in store for us runners at 31km. What is aptly named 'marathon hill', probably no longer than 100m but its blummin steep. I've actually run up it quite a few times in the past but on race day my legs gave in and a walk/shuffle seemed the best method to take. You'll be pleased to hear its removed for future events!
Even with all of this pain, I felt a massive love for the marathon. From pretty much anywhere on the entire route if you look around you, you are surrounded by beautiful mountains. If you love road running or trail running, you would love this race as its about half and half, and in the most picturesque place imaginable.
The final 8km follows the edge of the lake all the way to the finish at the Queenstown Recreation Ground, along tree lined trails. From practicing this section many times, I knew it was flat till the end. I tried my very best to not let anyone overtake in this last section and I almost managed to it. I could tell everyone was in as much pain as me, just trying to hang in there.
As I got closer to town, there were more enthusiastic supporters and loud music to spur me on. This was needed as within the final few kilometres you scoot around the outside of Queenstown park which sticks out into the lake on a peninsular. On this particular day the wind was quite strong which makes this part pretty punishing!
My original game plan was to be super slow for the first half of the race and then gradually build the speed up during the last 15km or so to have an amazing, strong finish.
Well... the first bit went tits up which resulted in desperately trying to keep my legs moving for the whole second half. The sign '10km to go' came and there was no pace increase happening for me. '5km to go' came and still nothing. I kept telling myself that its ok and I can still push the pace later. '1km to go', so close to the end. Nothing. I gave in to the fact that just maintaining my pace is better than slowing down. So much for my sprint finish!
And to add insult to injury there was a hill at the finish. A whopping four or five meter rise in the road, but the way my body felt it was like climbing Everest! I'm pretty sure the chap behind me gave up and walked.
Anyway, after all of the pain and struggle, I made it to the end in 3:32:48. This meant that I got my GOLD certificate I had made for myself, and a huge pat on the back. I have two toenails that are black at the moment and will soon fall off. But most of all I have a massive sense of achievement. I'm pretty sure when I crossed the finish line I said I'll never do it again but its now a week later and I can't wait to enter another!!! Sound familiar?!?!
In conclusion, if you want to run a marathon in paradise, then sign up to Queenstown marathon but don't expect it to be completely flat and pain free! And do expect to see me there next year!!
A huge THANK YOU to all of the organisers and volunteers. Without them this experience would not have been half what it was. The encouragement from people handing out drinks did not fade throughout the day. Singing, dancing and shouting out our individual names printed on our race numbers all day is not easy, but these guys gave it their all.
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