Saturday, March 2, 2013

Running with the Kiwis - Take Two

After the first race we did in New Zealand, the 13K Clutha River Track, we decided that the Shotover Moonlight Mountain Half Marathon would be fairly similar since it also mostly followed a river. Meaning, it would have a bit of climbing, but generally be pretty mild and obnoxiously scenic.

We nailed the scenic part but were WAY off on the mild bit.

This race also had a Full Marathon distance (which was a point-to-point race whose last seven miles or so were the same as the last seven miles of the Half) as well as 5K and 10K distances.

While there was an elevation chart for the Full Marathon, which showed that it was a very tough course, there wasn't one for the Half, which was probably a good thing since it ended up looking a bit scary.

There was one drink station, but we hit it twice. The "Yikes" bit line up with the two main climbs you see on the elevation profile. The last part of the course is a steady uphill (we were running up-river) that had around 40 river crossings - we shared this bit of trail (along with most of that last climb) with the Full runners.

You can see the dust being kicked up by a steady stream of cars arriving at the lake.
There was a long bit of narrow gravel road that you had to drive on to get to Moke Lake. Most rental car companies make you promise to not drive on such roads, but we went with a company that was really only interested in getting the car back with most of its bumpers still intact, so we smiled as we cruised up this road.

Also, note the sky. It was clear and beautiful weather - not exactly hot but just warm enough. Since the course was largely exposed, sunscreen was a must (thank you Mrs Notthat for bringing it and getting me to put some on!).

This should have been the first hint that water was going to play such a big part in the day - we had to cross this stream just to get from the parking area to the woolshed where the race was being staged.

Mr and Mrs Notthat nearly ready to go. Mrs wisely went with the white shirt.
A very cool thing about this race was that it started at the very sensible hour of 11 AM. Since the Full started at 7 AM, this meant that we would be finishing together with many of the Full runners, and this really turned out to be fun.

All but one of these runners would place in their age groups.
Mrs Notthat, having good social skills, quickly started talking with some of the other runners. At this point we still knew little about what was ahead of us.

A little bit before the race there was a pre-race briefing. The Half, 10K, and 5K distances all started together. The descriptions of the 5K and 10K courses sounded jolly, exactly what I was expecting.

Then the RD got to the Half course, paused, and said "Oh my that Half course." I instinctively moved away from Mrs Notthat since I was now realizing that this wasn't going to be as easy as I had anticipated. "The first bit will be easy, then you get a long downhill bit. Followed by a longer uphill bit. And when you are done climbing you get 42 river crossings and a tunnel."

Mrs Notthat looked at me and said "What have you got me into???" (There might have been even more question marks - I was very happy to not be standing next to her at that moment.)

And we're off! The first bit of the race was all on gravel road, which at first was a bit of a disappointment, but later would be looked at as a blessing.

The first milestone was the 5K turnoff. They darted across a short bit of grass then became one with the river. I don't know how many river crossings they ended up with, but I would guess between 5 and 10.

A brave volunteer making sure none of the longer distance runners chickened out and took the shortcut.

While the trail was nice and smooth, it was also mostly a gradual uphill climb. Note that Mrs Notthat has already left me in the dust.

The next milestone was the 10K turnoff. I would guess they ended up with between 10 and 15 river crossings. (Hopefully someone will comment with better information on that.)

Now we were down to just the Half runners heading up the hill. Our reward was a stunning view.

We could look down on the river and see some of the faster runners (probably Full runners, but maybe some Half runners) running along it, heading back to the finish.

I had done the long downhill and thought I had done the long uphill when I got to this point. The easy thing to do would be to go straight and plunge back down to the river. So naturally that's not what we did, and instead turned right and headed up the hill.

This was one of the toughest hill climbs I've ever done - it was steep and there really wasn't a trail; just some markers scattered up the hill. (A benefit of being slow is that all of the other runners have already mashed down the grass to make a trail-like thing appear.)

This drink station is where we first met up with some of the Full runners.
Shortly after we reached the real top of that first climb, we were at the drink station (water and electrolyte). The volunteer looked at me and pointed me to the right. "You're in for a real treat. Hopefully I'll see you again in a bit" he said. Hopefully?

From this point the Half runners did a lollipop - first we ran down the stick, did a mean little loop, then headed back up the stick.

The nice thing was that we had a fun stretch of downhill before we reached the candy part of the lollipop and split off to the right. (It was really clear here what you had to do, but after I headed off the the right a bit I started to wonder since I hadn't seen any markings or other runners. It was really the only time I had any doubts about whether I was off course, and it was cleared up shortly by… 

… these two women who blew past me. This bit of trail was a fun single-track with small rolling hills. 

Mrs Notthat at the base of the lollipop. The funny thing is that her maiden name is on that sign.
I had been a bit worried about Mrs Notthat - she could easily have missed a turn or two and I was a bit surprised I hadn't seen her on the stick. It turned out that I needn't have worried - she had met up with a German named Artac (not her real name) and the two of them fought through the last half of the course together. 

There had been talk of trail improvements from last year, and I suspect that this was a big one - these flagstones made getting through this very muddy stretch much easier.

Next I came up on this volunteer who told me to take a left. And warned me that the fun was just beginning.

Sadly, pictures don't do this part of the course justice. There was really not much of a trail, just a series of course markers that took you through the less hazardous bits of brambles and mud pits. It was really challenging to try and do any running through this - the grass made it really hard to see what you were stepping on or in, and sometimes you had to look pretty hard to find the next marker. I could often see several tramped down paths through the grass where different runners had tried different tacts to get through this.

There was very little climbing for this stretch, but it was extremely challenging.

At the end of that bit, this wonderful volunteer pointed us to the relative beauty of an uphill gravel road to get us back up to the drink station.

It was along this uphill stretch that we merged with the Full runners for good (this year they were spared that bit of "trail" we had gone through, but I feel confident they had much worse horrors on their course).

I swear he looked surprised that I had made it back.
Getting back to the drink station was a great sight for a couple of reasons.

• It gave me an excuse to stop and catch my breath while my water bottle was filled.

• It was the end of the major climbing for the day. From here, it was a long downhill to the river.

Off I went down the hill to the promised 42 river crossings. (Actually, we had already done one, so only 41 were left, in theory. That seemed like a lot and I was reasonably sure he was exaggerating a bit. Ha.)

Before I knew it, I was in the river. And it felt awesome. It wasn't particularly warm out, but the sun was relentless and I would have loved laying down and splashing in this river for a bit.

But I had a race to finish. And river crossings to count.

I was determined to take pictures of every river crossing, and I think I got most of them. Above are 36 of the better ones. This was amazing and a LOT of fun.

Two Full runners showing me how to run through a river.

I dunked my hat multiple times. It was very refreshing. And the frogs thanked me.

So how was Mrs Notthat handling the river crossings?

Just fine thank you. (She was WAY ahead of me at this point - Artac took this picture.)

The tunnel. I came very close to missing this - I had become so used to following the "road" back and forth across the river I missed the massive number of markers pointing to this tunnel, and instead did a normal river crossing. Then a Full runner came up on me suddenly and asked how I liked the tunnel - I was SO happy he said something because I would have hated to miss this. So I recrossed the river, backtracked about 100 yards/meters/furlongs, and went through the tunnel. It was awesome. (And I got two bonus river crossings for free!)

At about this point you can hear the music and announcements and see the woolshed. But my GPS said I wasn't nearly done, and it was right. So close… (Several people missed a turn and bypassed the last bit of fun. It was cool that all of them headed back out and did the bit they had missed.)

For some reason this river crossing had a lifeguard.

We ran across a horse pasture and this volunteer made sure we didn't sneak a ride on one.

Running along Moke Lake (which I weirdly cropped out of the picture). We can see the finish area again, and this time it's for real!

Another horse pasture volunteer guard. He told me there was a LOT of cold beer still at the finish. My stress level dropped and my pace picked up.

One more crossing, but weirdly, this one had a "bridge" option. I'd be curious how many runners used that bridge. It's not like your feat weren't already soaked.

The finish chute! Follow the depressed grass. (Sadly, someone already pointed out that it might not be depressed, but just feeling a bit down.)

What the??? After all that you had to scramble up this short but steep(ish) cliff to get to the finish line. It was a great way to wrap up this race.

OK, a better way to wrap up this race was the free beer (this was the Wanaka Beer Works Half Marathon after all) which, even better, had a custom label from the race on it! I loved this!

Full finishers got these amazing finisher medals.

So I'm quietly standing off to the side as the various age group winners are read off, and then Mrs Notthat's name is called! She won her age group!

She received a great New Balance sports bag as her prize. Yes, one more thing to squeeze into our already bulging suitcases, but it was so cool we made room.

Famous trail runner Anna Frost ("Frosty," on the right) also ran the Half Marathon. Very quickly.

On the way back to the car, there was one more river crossing. My feet were still pretty wet, so I took the easy route. Mrs Notthat took the "bridge" route.

A picture of the swag. Only Full runners were given shirts, so we each bought one (they are very nice). We each got a water bottle, bottle of beer (my empty is proudly sitting on my desk at work), Queenstown calendars, massive reusable bags, and of course Mrs Notthat's prize.

This was an amazing race, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Actually, I'd really like to give the Full course a shot, but I'm a bit intimidated by it. At the time we left, runners were still coming in and posting + ten hour times. Yikes!

This is easily a destination race - it's the kind of race you could center a nice trip to New Zealand around. It's all on ridiculously scenic private property (I suspect the owner gets a kick out of watching runners get tortured this way, even if they all have huge smiles when they are done).

You can see a bunch of other pictures I took here. You can see a bunch of pictures a professional took here. There will even be a video at some point.

This was the race's second year and a date has already been set for next year's edition (Feb 22 in 2014). I'm not sure I can swing another NZ trip that quickly, but it would be a blast if I could.

That's it - move along…


DAK said...

This looks like the toughest race ever. So Mrs. That's maiden name was Saddle?

notthatlucas said...

I wondered how long it would take for some wiseguy to take a shot at that. Good guess, but no. And not the toughest ever, but easily in the top five. Probably the top three if we only count Half Marathons.

mary ann said...

I can't believe ALL those river crossings ~ congrats to you both!

Beth said...

These pictures are amazing! I have serious river crossing envy!
Will we see you two at Lagoon Valley?