This might not be my holiday of a lifetime, but it was my holiday of a lifetime so far. I’d never been nearly so far away, or for so long. So what do runners do when they are planning a holiday itinerary? They scan the internet for races to enter, of course. This one particularly caught my eye; a tough, steep, off-road challenge in fine mountain scenery.
It turned out not to be a great time to visit the country, as tropical cyclone Gabrielle was wreaking havoc across the North Island early in my trip, leaving several areas devastated and cut off, and tragically, eleven deaths. I had planned to do three races while in New Zealand, as well as parkruns of course. The first of these, a road race near Auckland, was cancelled because of the dangers of the cyclone. A report for the second, a trail half marathon near Wellington might appear later.
The Miners Trail (I have noticed that New Zealand frequently omits apostrophes in road signs and elsewhere, whether this is by accident or they are trying to get them abolished I don’t know, but there isn’t one in the official race title) is actually part of a wider festival, which also included a 52km trail ultra, a trail marathon, and mountain bike races. My race was therefore the easy option, and was also open to walkers.
My day had started in nearby Queenstown, which is a beautifully situated town on Lake Wakatipu, with a spectacular backdrop of the Remarkables mountain range. It has become New Zealand’s main centre for outdoor and adrenalin-fuelled activities, but my focus for the morning was a gentle jog collecting my parkrun “Q”, and chatting with other parkrun tourists, who considerably outnumbered the locals, as well as trying to loosen the stiffness in my legs from a tough hike two days before. There can’t be a more scenic parkrun than this anywhere.
The race location is in Arrowtown, a small town that was once a centre for gold mining. No doubt in times past it would have had a Wild West kind of feel, but now it is an attractive place, with many of its older buildings preserved, and a range of bars, restaurants and cafes (New Zealand is heaven if you like coffee). Several thousand competitors across all races gathered in a park where there were many food and drink stalls and sponsors’ tents, and there was an impressive toilet to competitor ratio.
It is worth mentioning that this race takes place in the Southern Hemisphere summer. Despite the earlier stormy weather, there had been may hot and sunny days on my holiday, which had made running very difficult, even over short distances, particularly as my recent training at home had generally taken place at near freezing point. I had been watching the weather forecast for several days and was pleased to see that cooler, cloudier conditions were expected, though this didn’t stop me slapping on the sunscreen.
As the start approached we all gathered at the start line and were sent off in several waves two minutes apart, to prevent bottlenecks in the early narrow section. A short path led out of the town and across a wooden river bridge and immediately started climbing a well made gravel track for a mile and a half at a fairly steep and almost constant gradient. No doubt the sharp end of the field would run all of this, but for me it was a mixture of fast walking, with some slow running just to change the muscle usage. The views of the mountains began to open out on our right, albeit with their tops shrouded in cloud.
The top of this climb led to more level terrain, which allowed me to pick up the pace a bit. The stiffness in my legs seemed to have gone now, but I knew there was plenty of climbing left to come, so I took the next section at a cautious pace even though the track was still excellent underfoot.
A turn off the track and over a stile took us onto a grassy path that became narrower as we progressed, making overtaking difficult on the downward stretch. It was also at this point that a very British misty drizzle settled over the course, and I felt a bit more in my element for what lay ahead.
Three miles in, and the climbing started in earnest. The path became increasingly rocky and good awareness of your feet was necessary to negotiate the ascent. I was definitely in walking mode now as we all climbed up the side of a deep gully. There must have been some fit gold miners if they could manage this path and work a shift before heading home, as this was really taking it out of me. Stopping to look at the fine views was a good excuse to catch breath.
The mountains around here are still forming due to seismic activity, but are also subject to much water erosion, giving the landscape a distinctive crumpled appearance, but there are also the scars on the ground from mining activity like you see closer to home in Swaledale or Weardale. And every turn in the path only revealed more climbing. The summit of the course at five and a half miles was reached almost in disbelief. At least the rain had stopped.
It was too early yet to think about a dash back down again. The first part of the descent was a rocky, rutted groove with lots of twists and turns. I realised just how much the climb had taken out of my legs, as I was constantly struggling for balance, and I nearly tripped on a number of occasions. I was getting frustrated, and had to tell myself to concentrate on every step.
Eventually, the path widened and became more even, and I knew that this was the time to start enjoying myself. This was a section for gravity to do the work and long downhill strides were the order of the day, and a chance to pick up some places over those who prefer to take descents more cautiously. The path finally joined a wider gravel track which we had to share with mountain bikers on their even more rapid descent.
Race organisers are sadistic kinds of people. They like to hold information back from competitors who have never seen the course before. I knew we were descending to the valley the Arrow River, which meant a fairly level last couple of miles. What I didn’t know was that we descended literally into the Arrow River, a freezing, rock-strewn, sometimes more than knee-deep torrent that we had to cross nine times, if my count was correct. This put a considerably brake on my progress, making my feet heavy and filling my shoes with little stones. I’m not sure the cooling of my leg muscles helped much either and I struggled forward until the final crossing when I could hear the noise from the finish area. This gave me sufficient encouragement to put in one last effort to reach the finish line.
It seems a bit silly recommending a race on the other side of the world, but this is an absolutely fabulous race in splendid scenery, with varied underfoot conditions, and is a real test. I think I came through pretty well in 10th place out of 18 in my category, but I dread to think what I would have been like on a warm day. Another good thing about this race (and the other race I did in New Zealand) was that your race number had a detachable beer token, so you can get some much-needed refreshment as soon as you finish. Maybe this should become standard practice at British races.
|Pos||Name||Club||Time||Gen Pos||Cat||Cat Pos|
|173||Malcolm Sygrove||Elvet Striders||2:21:41||95||M50-59||10|
508 competitors, including 96 walkers, completed the course.
Full results can be found on Sport Splits .
Motatapu race website.