Sometimes in life you have to take that leap of faith. A metaphorical stumble into the unknown, blindingly hoping. As I stood on the edge of a bridge in New Zealand about to take a literal leap, with nothing but bungee rope to stop me from plunging to my death, I couldn’t help but think about when leap of faiths have done wrong. A few days before at the Queenstown Marathon I had jumped only to fall, a mistake entirely of my own making but I’m getting ahead of myself.
New Zealand was scrawled at the very top of my bucket list ever since I first watched Lord of the Rings, I remember being sat in the cinema, mouth wide open in awe of that magical landscape. The swell of music as the Fellowship tore across Middle Earth, that’s when I decided I had to go to New Zealand. I wanted my own adventure.
It wouldn’t be until five more movies and 16 years later that I got my shot at adventure. Late one night I received a message from one of my friends who had just moved down there with a very appealing bribe; “come out to New Zealand for a few weeks and I’ll run my first marathon”. For a Gollum like medal hoarder it was too good an offer to turn down. So after sorting out available times and bruising my credit card we picked the Queenstown Marathon as our race and I planned just over two weeks in the land of Hobbits and Elves.
The problem with travelling across the other side of the planet for a marathon (apart from the 28 hour flight) is that while I have been training in winter in the UK, New Zealand is skipping into summer. While the long nights have encircled us in the UK, the warm New Zealand days stretch into glorious evenings. What’s the problem with that I hear you say? The heat, or more accurately the sun. New Zealand sits under a hole in our o-zone layer meaning that the UV strength that we are shielded from burns down on every sunbeam. You can feel cold in the shade but one step out of the shadow and the change in heat is instant and intense.
The race is an early morning shuttle from Queenstown. We rolled our way to the sleepy resort of Arrowtown a gold mining town that time forgot. Much like the rest of New Zealand, the start was the most beautiful start. So stunning in fact that you begin to forget you’re about to run 26.2 miles and it’s not until the announcer softly stated that there was one minute to go and we rushed to get into our starting pen.
It was at the stating pen that I decided the leap of faith. With three marathons in the past two months and the inevitable heat that would blister down as soon as the sun found it’s way over the jagged mountains, I knew my body would struggle in the latter half and I wanted a new PB. Why not start way faster and get further into the race before the mercury starts rising into uncomfortable levels? So if at mile 20 I was struggling I would have minutes and miles in hand to slow my pace and still be on target for the sub 4:30 goal I set for the year. Sounds smart, right? Wrong. I always say don’t do something new on race day and going over a minute faster per mile was a hop, skip and a jump of faith in the wrong direction. Hindsight, I would have slowed right down from the start and simply have enjoyed the most magnificent of marathons.
For first few miles we ran along the Arrow river and under the welcomed shade of wooded areas. The heat had come earlier than I thought so I knew that I would spend the rest of the race searching and sheltering in whatever shade there was. With the uneven surface you had to spend much of the earlier stages with one eye on the road ahead but the snatched moments you look around you you’re rewarded with quiet beauty. That quiet beauty grabbed a megaphone as we began to run towards Lake Hayes when New Zealand unfurled itself in epic form. I couldn’t help myself, I began to hum the soundtrack of Lord of the Rings through labouring breaths. If you have ever wanted to feel like Aragon, Legolas or in my case Gimli then this is the marathon for you. A fellowship of runners.
As we approach the first real uphill section I suddenly realised we had been lied to: Queenstown Marathon describes itself as ‘flat-out beautiful’. It may be beautiful but it is far from flat with steady long climbs to short sharp inclines that take your breath away and not just because of the views they reveal at the top.
At the halfway mark I still felt great and crucially pain free, perhaps my body would hold out? Pride often comes before a fall but in this case pride came before a steep up hill and an IT Band flare up. I had never had problems with my IT Band before but as the physio at the end of race massage point out with four marathons in so few weeks my body was bound to protest somehow.
For the latter half my pace was sporadic at best. Moments of good paced running interspersed with lumbered steps as the pain tightening its grip around my leg. I decided to just enjoy my privileged position on the other side of the planet. I took in every stunning vista, let my mind wander through the blessed year I’ve had and chatting to the incredible marshals sat in the middle of nowhere insuring that we didn’t end up wandering off course and further into Middle Earth.
As I reached the last few miles my body was spent, running only on fumes, I hurtled down the finish line designed like a runway and got my own precious; the medal shaped like the mountain ranges I had spent much of the race in complete awe of. It certainly wasn’t my best marathon but it was by far the most beautiful.
Queenstown (and New Zealand as a whole) in hands down the ultimate destination marathon and not just because of it’s far flung location. With just about any activity you could think of available there really is something for anyone. Queenstown is the birthplace of the bungee jump, something that thanks to my own stupidity I ended up doing shortly before my flight out. It is also littered with countless other high adrenaline activities from mountain biking, speedboats and whitewater rafting. For those of you favouring the finer and ultimately slower things in life there is also wineries at every turn, offering tastings of incredible wines throughout the day. I spent the following days doing as much of the wonderful activities the area had to offer, including a flight to Milford Sounds a place that must be seen to be believed just how such epic-ness exists in reality. It has taken me almost a month to put my experience into blog form simply because I am still trying to comprehend all the incredible things I did in New Zealand. Much like at the marathon you set the pace and New Zealand itself will try it’s best to wow you.
Highlights: View, vistas, expanses. Every corner you came round revealed another awe inspiring landscape. In my mind it is the ultimate destination marathon with so much to do in the local area.
Lowlights: It was a pretty expensive race considering there was no t-shirt or swag bag at the end. The buses to the start were a bit disorganised as ours took us to the start of the half marathon!