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Running the Routeburn and Greenstone tracks

Routeburn – Greenstone tracks circuit at EveryTrail

For many months now I’ve been training for a big mountain run. Jean’s sister Meg has been training back in the US also and we’ve encouraged each other by following each others’ runs on Strava. We initially tried to register for the Kepler Challenge but despite getting on the morning registration opened neither of us secured a spot. So I came up with an alternate route of a similar distance and the training commenced.

8C348B2F-86D7-46C9-9143-13136B6DEBBFAs you can see I started marking off the plan diligently at first but then got in to the swing of things and would just glance at it each week. I was pretty good at sticking to our training plan, the only big miss being my longest training run which fell on the weekend I became a father! So I skipped that and just started the taper a little early. I’ve done some big runs before but never trained as diligently and it really did help.

Once Meg arrived in New Zealand we were getting pretty excited for the big day. But as we enjoyed near perfect weather in Queenstown the forecast was getting worse and worse for our Saturday run in the mountains. Up to the day before, the forecast for Harris Saddle on the Routeburn was 70 km/h winds and -7 Celsius wind chill. We didn’t have a lot of flexibility for our date and we decided that running would keep us warm and the plethora of huts and trampers would be a decent backup plan if conditions got truly awful.

As you can see from the photos we started in sunshine and the weather never got nearly as bad as predicted. It was rainy at times and a little cold but actually great temps for running. If we stopped we got cold, so we didn’t stop much! The tracks are extremely well marked and formed making for excellent running. A few sections of the Routeburn we ran in to large groups of trampers that occasionally slowed us down as we navigated past each other. Most people were really supportive and encouraging, often a bit surprised to see us running by in shorts. One non-native English speaker told us “I want to fly as you” which I thought was especially nice. And a French lady cried as she struggled with her heavy pack, “C’est pas juste!”. Only one couple stood out as a little affronted that we would choose to run this route with comments like “Why the hurry?” “Did you forget your packs?”. By the time we reached Howden Hut we welcomed the increased solitude of the Greenstone track where we only saw a couple other people. And it remained just as gorgeous. Unfortunately we didn’t take any photos in that section as we just focused on keeping going and the hourly snack breaks we allowed ourselves. Jean made us each an amazing pastrami sandwich that I can’t imagine making it around the circuit without.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

I also modified the lock screen of my phone with this quick breakdown of the run in to manageable segments so we had a sense we were getting somewhere. It was more helpful than I imagined except I think the Mackenzie H. – Howden H. segment was not downhill as I indicated with my slash but more up and down.

I wish we had a chance to run a few more of the Great Walks of New Zealand, like the Kepler. Unlike most of the tracks around the island the Great Walks are extremely well maintained and runnable. A lot of the rest of them are more “routes” with poles indicating the way you should travel and something resembling a deer trail to follow. I think training on these rougher tracks made the actual run on a broad trail a lot easier.

Jean, baby Zoë, and Trish were an excellent support crew, even driving our ’92 Ford Falcon through three fords on the road to our pickup to make sure we didn’t have to run/walk out 10 more kilometers at the end of it. And Trish got us beers and carrot cake!



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