Queenstown Marathon 2023:
Marathon # 106
Date:November 18, 2023
Queenstown Marathon was a bit of a spontaneous last minute thing. Everything seemed to align. It was a long weekend, accommodation was sorted, and family was able to look after our kids for a couple of days. So my wife and I hopped into the car and made the 6 hour trip from Christchurch to Queenstown on Friday morning (Canterbury Anniversary Day). The last time I ran Queenstown Marathon it was 2014 so it had been a while between runs. Come Saturday morning, I caught an early 6.45am shuttle to the start line at Millbrook Resort. It was a cold November morning and I joined the rest of the 1800 participants crammed into the start area sectioned off from the golf course. Some were lining up for coffee but most were standing around in the sun to keep warm as the well-manicured grass was covered in thick dew. Not keen on standing around for an hour before a marathon, I headed towards the large English Oak, Elm, and Hawthorne trees that shaded the starting chute at The Avenues. I managed to find a dry and flat tree root under one of the trees where I could sit and offload my legs. The tree shaded my face but the sun was still low enough in the horizon that my body could feel the warmth of the sun. I was also at the edge of the crowd so it was nice and peaceful. Sitting in the sun, I reflected on how much I enjoyed the peace before a marathon. It’s one of the few times where my mind is still. Thoughts enter my mind and pass through again. I don’t fixate on any particular thing and I’m at ease and worry free. They say the mind loves stillness and the body loves movement. The marathon allows me to practise both of these. Maybe this is part of the attraction of a marathon. Queenstown would be my 10th marathon this year. Remarkably this is the most marathons I’ve ever run in a calendar year since I started running. Why the sudden revival? Maybe I’ve fallen back in love with marathons again. Maybe I just love running. Maybe I’m in too deep and know nothing different. We all need a ‘why’ for exercise.
As we finally set off in our staggered starting groups, my body is a bit stiff and cold after all the rest so it’s nice to get moving. We leave The Avenue and golf course behind us and head towards Arrowtown. Within 500 metres, I pass a couple of guys dressed as the Jamaican Bobsled Team. They appear to be in a heated exchange about ‘not quite thinking this through’ as they detach from their joined bobsled and run just behind each other. We then literally run through Arrowtown and its heritage buildings. It’s quite a surreal experience running along the main road of this quaint, historic gold mining town. After 3km, we merge onto beautiful trail along the Arrow River surrounded by lush greenery. As we run around Lake Hayes, there are more rolling hills with spectacular mountains in the background. Along the way, I pass a couple of people with personal statements on their running shirts. The first is “I’m running for my sister who has…” and the second is “I’m dedicating this run to my grandmother”. These are very emotive and personal ‘whys’ which can be very powerful if harnessed correctly. Which brings me back to the importance of having a ‘why’ to exercise. What is your why? What will make you get out of bed and train for a marathon when your mind will almost certainly counsel that this isn’t necessary? As I’ve mentioned before, our DNA still thinks that we’re hunter gatherers living in the savannah. Our minds crave efficiency but our bodies need movement. Outside of ‘fight or flight’, our brain is hardwired towards energy conservation. Relax, put your feet up. You deserve it. Once upon a time when we were hunter gatherers, we had a ‘why’ to be active. We HAD to be active in order to live and survive! We had no choice! But now, our modern day lifestyle saturates us with rest and we can choose to rest more. Combine that with a brain that trumps conserving energy at all costs and hello to all our chronic diseases and mental health problems. Hence the requirement for a powerful ‘why’ to help outwit the most sophisticated energy conservation tool in the world – our brains. What is your why? Is it for yourself? Is it for others? Is it to fulfil a goal? Is it for a healthy and functional future? Is it to challenge yourself? Is it to rebel against our sedentary and comfortable lifestyles? I’d recommend you have a few ‘whys’ and ironclad them. If you don’t have a why, then it doesn’t even compare with bringing a sword to a gunfight. You’re fighting with your bare hands.
Having spontaneously entered Queenstown, I hadn’t appreciated that the marathon was 70% trail and 30% on road so my standard sub 4 hour goal time was rather optimistic. Although the scenery and varied terrain was more enjoyable, the off road component made the run ‘harder’ than most major city marathons. Despite trying to make up time after a slowish 5-10km start, I only managed to cross the half way mark (21.1km) in 2 hours and 2 minutes and by no means ‘fresh’. My god. I have to run a negative split if I want to finish under 4 hours. After 21km, a marathon starts to get hard and from 30km, it gets harder again. Naturally the brain starts doing what it does best. Why do you do this to yourself? Don’t push. Just finish easily. Approach this as a training run. You’ve got a couple of big races coming up. It’s not worth it. BUT I SET MYSELF A GOAL OF SUB 4 HOURS I say quietly. You need a good dose of stubbornness to be a good runner. Sometimes you’ve just got to go to battle with yourself, stay in the fight, and hold a pace. Although I was surrounded by hundreds of other runners, they were superfluous to the battle with myself and my own brain. The ultimate battle is always with yourself. So onward I went with all guns blazing. Better to die trying than not to try at all. After a few long straight roads, I was back on trail again. Up and over the Old Shotover Bridge and along the Shotover and Kawarau Rivers. Locked in my own battle, it was a haze of people, green trees, and blue water features. I reached the 32 km mark in 3 hours and 4 minutes leaving 56 minutes to run the last 10km. Stay in the fight. Hold it together. I kept pushing along the shores of Lake Wakatipu refuelling with Pure Nutrition gels and some Red Bull along the way. In the haze, I recognise passing two runners dressed as Mario and Luigi and my second Forest Gump runner for the day. When I reached the Queenstown Gardens, there were more supporters than participants so I knew I was close. I had less than 12 minutes to do 2 km. The last 2 kilometres in a marathon are never given, always earned. With ammunition almost expended, it’s time to fix bayonets. I push harder again. I course along the lake front and through the shops with cheering in the background. I cross the finish line in 3hrs and 58 mins. Battle won. Goal achieved. Not far behind me is one of the Forest Gump runners I passed earlier. He runs through the finish line, past the bewildered volunteers handing out finisher’s medals, and just keeps on running. Why? One of volunteers mouths. “I guess you’re going to have to ask Forest Gump”, I reply. Running is Medicine.
Helpful tipHave a few ‘whys’ and ironclad them