Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sweet As

Friday evening I returned home to Washington D.C. from Queenstown after a 28 hour door-to-door trip.  It is always nice to be home, once I actually return home safe and sound, however it remains sad, very sad, to leave the mountains.  Running down the peak from Ben Lomond on Thursday I pondered this repetitive feeling and considered what it might be like to enter the mountains and never leave.  Without attempting to sound philosophical (or morbid), I realize this is likely a subconscious end-goal in life for me.  Meaning, obviously we all will depart from this earth some time, somewhere and I hope that when my time comes I go on a mountain and there, too, is where I am layed to rest; no coming down for me.
Speaking of Thursday's run, my second to last outing in Queenstown, I hooked up with local trail runner and Routeburn Classic race director Evan McWhirter for a quick tour of local area trails.  Evan and I met up over coffee then headed out to the closest mountain trail two blocks from the hotel sometime around mid morning.  We ran together only for a little while, though it was more like a collective grunting power hike, and conversed all-things Queenstown until finally he returned to his busy day and me on to the peak of Ben Lomond and new territory further afield.  I imagine there are many activities in life that provide complete strangers the opportunity for getting to know each other quickly and bond.  Fortunately, in my opinion, one of those activities happens to be climbing a narrow technical trail of sheer vertical.

Evan McWhirter.  Living the Queenstown Dream.
The run itself took me higher and higher after Evan’s departure until the town of Queenstown, nestled poetically in between the mountain I was climbing and Lake Wakatipu, eventually became hardly recognizable.  The higher I climbed the steeper and more technical the trail became until my stride was ultimately squashed to a forward leaning amble up the final pitch.

From here.
To there.
The final slog.
The top.  Center: Queenstown.
Middle to bottom left-hand side: the ridge trail leading to the top of Ben Lomond.
After slowly descending the gnarly trail I had just previously climbed I turned left on to the Moonlight Track, a grassy, slippery, boggy, steep mountain face traversing east towards a ridge overlooking the crystal clear Shotover River 1,000 feet below.  I continued following the Moonlight Track, which followed the river, for a few miles until the intersecting wild goat paths became increasingly confusing to decipher against the narrow Moonlight Track.  I eventually lost the track and became turned around on the goat paths for about an hour.  In the process I shredded my legs and arms amidst thick briar brush and was bloodied and splintered to the point of nervousness.  Believe it or not, at times I even crawled on all fours below the towering stalks of briar bushes in a misguided attempt at escaping further torture as the lowest stemming braches still managed to scratch and pull along my back and neck.  Thankfully, I eventually made my way back on course, ran the remaining miles down to the river and finally to the gravel trail along Gore Road which delivered me back to town.  Despite my frustrations with the briar brush attacks, I still wanted to make the most of the day so once back to town I headed up Queenstown Hill for quick loop, then down to the Queenstown Garden trails along the lake, to the grocery store for airplane snacks and, finally, back to the hotel.  In addition to the full-frontal mountain vistas each and every trail mile provided on this run, I was equally thankful to happen upon its fresh crossing streams.  In the central Otago region of New Zealand's South Island the water table is high and produces bountiful full streams with fresh, potable water that is pure and delicious.  If I could I would drink from these streams for the rest of my life.

Sadly, the situation on my arms and legs was much worse than the picture below depicts.  I snapped this shot after washing off in a stream.  I've since pulled out several splinters and there remains still many more hiding just below the skin.
Too much of a good thing?  Nah!
12 hours after returning home to D.C. on Friday I found myself lined up yesterday morning downtown at the National Marathon, about to run my first half marathon in what I hoped would be a comfortable training tempo fashion.  Several quick VHTRC buds were out in force (Keith, Aaron, Matt, Jon, Mitchell and Martha).  I ran the first few miles conservatively and comfortably, as I had planned, figuring that Queentown's mileage and elevation remained memorialized in my legs.  Also, I had the squeamish feeling that the previous day's airplane food would return to haunt me on this day.  Unfortunately, my intuition proved correct: by mile five the gi was kickin' and at mile 10 I was forced to pull over.  Oh well.  I carried on well enough after that little episode and finished happy, albeit with lingering gi issues.  It was a fun, first half marathon run and a venerable stacking of tempo miles over top a solid high mileage week with unusually high loads of elevation gain and loss.  My sister Joan and brother-in-law Colin also ran the half marathon, and another sister, Margaret, ran a Boston qualifying time in the marathon.  Good stuff.  One of these days I do hope to actually really run- much less train for- a road race (preferably a marathon).

Back to New Zealand for a final word: nine days on its soil allowed for 128 blissful miles of running.  This week, beginning Monday, ended with 103 miles as of this morning.  Things continue looking up on the training front; my confidence for Massanutten and the following summer season is slowly building; I am pleased.  In conclusion, though I was in New Zealand on a work-reward trip with the good people at Accident Fund and it was very productive in that regard, which is equally pleasing, Queenstown revealed to me it's prowess as a phenomenal destination for outdoor adventure and a great place to consider a true "running vacation".  If you haven't visited already please consider adding Queenstown to your vacation to-do list.  By the way, “sweet as” is Kiwi slang similar to phrases we Americans might say like “hell yeah”.


  1. Sounds like a fantastic trip, Neal. Glad you had such a great time - and escaped the briar patch (scary)!

  2. Wow, looks absolutely stunning! Now I really must go. My sister lives in Winton, a couple of hours south of Queenstown. I have never visited her since she moved there because I hate long flights, but I am inspired to go now!

    May I pick your brain? I'm looking for some advice on what to eat on long runs in preparation for my 50K. I figure I won't want to eat GU the whole time! What do you eat? What kinds of food do the aid stations usually have?

    Thanks! Alison

  3. Emily- no doubt! Matt would dig on the fishing options there.

    Alison- if your sister lives in NZ, sorry, but you have no excuse not to go! (Maybe you'll want to move there, too?)
    On longer runs I usually start off with a cliff bar or two then mix in cliff blocks and Gu gels from there after. During long races same thing but during a 50k I will go with only blocks and gels, with gels only towards the end. Calories absorb into the blood more quickly. I also consume one to two (depending on heat) s-caps per hour for electrolytes. I've never been a sports drink type of person except for gatorade late in a race if it is available at at aid stations but lately I've tried Succeed Amino after a few hours into a long training run. In addition to calories, etc. I swear I think it cuts down on lactic acid, plus it tastes good(not too sweet) after several hours of water only.
    Aid stations at races are all different. The race site will usually spell out what will be available and if it doesn't email the RD and they will tell you. Then again, don't bank on the exact foods being there. If you are particular about what you want to eat during a race (like me), you'd best bring it along just in case.

  4. Thanks, Neal! I guess I was treating this ultra thing as an opportunity for a foodfest. During my last marathon I ate 5 GUs and that worked well, so maybe that plan is best! Good luck at Bull Run Run. Alison

  5. Neal, I enjoy hearing about, and reading about, your trip. The pictures are absolutely amazing! Frame worthy. Well, minus the jacked up legs, of course. I hope the last of the splinters have found their way out. The idea that your legs carry you through all of that gorgeous terrain is quite impressive. No doubt you enjoyed it.