Kepler Challenge 60km 2018:
Kepler # 7
Date:December 01, 2018
The Kepler Challenge is an all time favourite of mine. Set in the Fiordland National Park, the 60km mountain run has established itself as New Zealand’s premier mountain run. The Kepler has a unique community feel to it which I’ve always found attractive. The local volunteers create a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere which is evident right from race registration. Warm smiles and well wishes ease any nervous unrest. The pre-race briefing also has its own small town quirks. The medical briefing by the local GP doesn’t seem to cover much ‘medical’ content. However, it comprehensively covers track conditions and relationship advice (“Think about your marriage”) for those choosing a rapid and perilous descent down the mountain. The weather brief often garners the most attention and the local weatherman doesn’t disappoint. The forecast is for still and calm conditions along the tops as ‘Gale’ won’t be coming this year. The morning of the race is as laid back as the locals. Even the start line next to Lake Te Anau has a peaceful and relaxed feel to it. However, by 6am, that wave of nervous excitement starts to bubble. Before long, a flow of 450 runners spills over the start line and up the mountain towards Luxmore Hut. For some it is a race. For others it is a challenge. For me, the Kepler provides the perfect escape and an opportunity to run off the working week.
I’ve always enjoyed a good long weekend run. The concept of ‘running off’ the working week is a good example of running being an effective form of stress management. Our lives are super busy and we’ve become addicted to doing too much. In doing so, we are taking on more than we can handle. Eventually the burden of workload grows heavy. Throw in more responsibility, expectations, and future uncertainty, and we become weary and passionless. Exercising and running teaches us how to control our stressors and let go. Running helps us to sort the important from the unimportant. Tease out what is relevant and what is trivial. Work out what needs commitment and what needs to be severed. Decipher what needs to be addressed today and what can wait until tomorrow (or 10 years). Life can get pretty chaotic and sometimes we all need to ‘run off’ the working week. Long distance running simply gives us more time to sift through the chaos and organise this whole mess. Ascending through beech forest and past limestone bluffs, I am de-stressing and becoming lighter. As I pass the tree line, the alpine views are spectacular. The clouds are within touching distance. The glacier carved valleys breath taking. Light of burden, I move through tussock grassland and rocky mountain ridges. Past waterfalls and along remnants of snow. I catch a red and green glimpse of a kea. Light hearted and light spirited. Free of burden I am truly free. It wasn’t that long ago that I had the weight of mountains on my back. But now, surrounded by mountains and with awe inspiring views as far as the eye can see, I am as light as a feather.
The decent down the mountain and towards Iris Burn Hut is swift. The familiar ringing bells at Iris Burn mark the end of the mountains and the beginning of more mossy beech forest. From here, it is a relatively flat 30km back to the finish though with relatively tired legs. It’s also a good place to catch a few ‘Kepler people trains’ as runners desperately cling on to each other over the next few aid stations. There is a bit of damage control by the time I arrive at Moturau Hut (44.6km). The after effects of the mountains and humidity are beginning to take their toll. I shovel any kind of performance enhancement into my mouth and hope for the best. The volunteers at Moturau continue to be enthusiastic and encouragement is freely given. All my requests are met with the exception of the full body massage (which continues to elude me during events). The last 15 km is always a push but it’s a lot easier running uncluttered and with less baggage. Moving next to rivers and along bridges and boardwalks, I am featherweight. The loud speakers at the control gates signal the end is near and obligingly I float to the end. Unburdened, dissolved of stress, and free. Learn to run lightweight. Learn to live lightweight. Running is medicine. Join me at my next blog, the Tarawera 100 Mile Endurance Run in February 2019. More night time ‘adventures…’