By Helen Gay

With my 60th birthday looming, I decided that my present to myself would be another marathon, this time overseas!  I chose Queenstown as New Zealand has always been on my list even though the run was 2 months before my actual birthday.

The flight into Queenstown is simply spectacularly stunning – descending between huge snow capped rugged mountains with Lake Wakatipu in the distance.  I was very excited to be there and looking forward to staying on to explore post marathon.

The race expo was in the Queenstown Memorial Centre and setting up the marathon finish was slowly taking shape on the Queenstown Memorial Oval with the food tents etc being put up.  The day was overcast, drizzly and cool & still some snow on the surrounding mountains, so I was hoping that the weather might stay like that for the marathon!  The marathon expo was only small – I collected my race number 879 and my race pack which was in a black bag which we had to use on race day to put in any belongings to be brought back to the finish line.

This was the 3rd Queenstown International Marathon (and my 2nd) & a field of 1936 marathoners were transported by shuttle bus to the starting line at the Millbrook Resort, Arrowtown.  Race day Saturday 19th November, 2016 dawned bright & sunny – not a cloud in the sky and forecast temperature 18 degrees – perfect! (It actually got much warmer than that!)

Brimming with excitement I walked to catch the bus which was a 20 minute ride – and we were dropped off at the front gate and then a short walk down the treelined avenue past immaculately manicured golf fairways, bunkers & putting greens – I thought of my husband Steve – a very keen golfer!

The MC was very entertaining before the run & Australia had the largest contingent of international competitors – 885 & of course the usual New Zealand v Aussie sporting banter!

Time to line up and we were sent off in 3 waves – I put myself in the 3rd wave and met other aussies while we were waiting for the start – I got some great comments about my TRR International top (thanks Bolt & Run) which made me proud to be wearing it and representing Tasmanian Road Runners!

At last it was our group to start – the gun went off and a mass beeping of watches being set into action – a very civilised start & we headed off down “The Avenue” – under the shady trees on both sides and out into the bright sunshine.  There was lots of fun chatter around me and I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy this run no matter what!  I felt good and did a quick mental check from head to toes – the hamstring/glute injury which I had carried for the previous 6 weeks was still there in a lesser form & manageable – this was not going to stop me & I had to pinch myself – yes I was in New Zealand running a marathon!

2km in and we were running through a quaint little town – Arrowtown & turned off onto the first of many trails – this was the Arrow River track, a lovely shady trail with the Arrow River bubbling along on my left – where else would I want to be on such a beautiful day!

The drink stations were plentiful & entertainment along the way made the going enjoyable & the scenery – OMG so beautiful – I felt so priviledged and lucky to be there.  The k’s ticked by – around Lake Hayes, across the boardwalk & then up the first of several inclines (I am loathe to call them hills given what was surrounding us).  This was a single narrow trail and the scenery still spectacular – blue lake, green hills, yellow Scottish Broom, blue sky and hot sun which was now starting to burn my shoulders!  Silly me – wasn’t planning on getting sunburnt in New Zealand!

At 18k we left the lake & onto the roads – Speargrass Flat Road and then onto Lower Shotover Road for 8km.  We ran past beautifully manicured rural properties with their proud owners sitting on deck chairs cheering us on!  My next highlight was running alongside the Lower Shotover River and then under the old bridge,  a small turn up another incline & over the bridge onto another trail which now took us on towards Queenstown.

At 30km we came across what is known as “marathon hill” it went up & up & up beside the Kawarau River with the river banks covered in the bright yellow broom.  This hill stopped many in our tracks and a welcome distraction whilst walking to the top was the jetboats speeding along the river.

I loved the motivational signs along the course and at the top of the climb we were greeted with “its all downhill from here…. mostly”.  I also loved the kilometre countdown si
gns as opposed to how many kilometres you have already run!

On the home stretch now through Frankton (near the airport) and onto the Frankton Arm walkway which runs around the shores of Lake Wakatipu.  By this time I was feeling really hot, had slowed considerably & was sick of GU so I was happy to alternate water & Powerade to get me to the finish!

Now with 2kms to go I ran around Queenstown Gardens & across the stone bridge onto Marine Parade, through the streets of Queenstown where there were lots of spectators cheering & clapping us home.  Our last little incline was Duke Street where we were met by a bagpiper – down the ramp which was made to look like an airport runway (main sponsors are Air New Zealand)and across the finish line!

I had made it – hot, tired, sunburnt but so elated & emotional (marathons are like that) as I also didn’t have anyone waiting for me at the finish line!

I was given a medal and drink & headed out of the runners area to seek the shade of a tree to cool down & stretch.

There was no PB – I drank at every station & stopped to take many photos on course & soaked up the atmosphere.  This marathon is 70% hardpacked trail & 30% road – very well organised with the most friendly volunteers.  If you are looking for an overseas marathon – no jetlag involved – then this one is highly recommended!

I loved it so much that I would love to go back & run the 2017 version of this marathon as they have changed the course – apparently there is no “marathon hill”!

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