Written by Bad Ass Ambassador Brook Van Reenen
Friday the 16thof November; a couple of weeks had passed since I finished my epic ‘7 peaks in 7 days’ and I had had a good taper. I was super excited for Queenstown marathon, I packed my gear into the car and headed over the hill from Wanaka to Queenstown to collect my race pack and settle in for the night. Everyone at check in looked a bit nervous, as it started pouring down with rain! I got my number, went to the place I was staying and took it easy for the night… finally falling asleep listening to the sound of rain on the roof.
Dawn broke and it was going to be a perfect day! I put my kit on, ate some breakfast and was stoked as the rain had stopped. Ict was slightly chilly as I headed to catch the bus which drove us to the start line out at Millbrook resort, but I knew I would warm up once we were off as I had 42.2 km’s to cover!
I was about half an hour early, so got my nerves in check, had a coffee and got ready. I bumped into Chander Singh, a Dunedin runner who had been following my page which was cool and then my mate Mel Aitken who I briefly chatted to before it was time to head to the start line.
I had a goal to join the 3 30 club, but with all my races I set the bar high and underestimate them so plan B was sub 4. Sally Law has taught me to always have 3 goals!
I first did Queenstown in 2015. It was my first ever marathon so I wanted to go back 3 years later to see how much I had improved and see what I had learnt. It didn’t disappoint. I eased off at the start, and fuelled reasonably well; I found it quite hard fuelling on this one, as you are running the majority and not walking the hills! So I took drinks at aid stations and had a few gels. It is an awesome course you run through Arrowtown, down the main street along trails around Lake Hayes, and then head into Queenstown, the vibes of people cheering you on from the side line and bands playing on the course along the way don’t get much better and as you run through the middle of Queenstown to the finish. It is a pretty awesome experience! I got to the final ramp and was pretty cooked in the legs so walked up and then ran across the finish line and was stoked to get a new PB in 3 hours and 50 minutes! I didn’t hang around long and headed back home as I had to rest and recover to get ready for the Luxmore Grunt in Te – Anau which was a couple of weeks away!
The Tuesday night the week before the Grunt and we had just finished a Wanaka Trail Runners run, we were in the pub and Tom Booth was back in the country and had come along for a jog, he was keen to come to Te Anau so I offered him a lift… unaware of what he would be offering me later on!
Friday the 30thof December rolled around and my gear was in the car again! I headed out to pick up Tom and we left Wanaka at 7.30 in the morning. I have been to 3 Keplers the last 3 years and it is always an awesome weekend away down in Te-Anau. So no way I was missing this year! I chose to do the Grunt this year as I had qualified for Crush the Cargill, the hardest, longest 24 hour race in the world which was 2 weeks after the Grunt (and I was keen to give it a solid crack!)
We arrived in Te-Anau (The Chamonix of the South, thanks Dirt Church Radio!) checked into the local holiday park and then headed to registration. It was good to catch up with people that I hadn’t seen in a while. The Dirt Church radio boys were there, (elite) athlete, Grant Guise, Adam Keen, Brent Godsiff, Vajin Armstrong, and many more. It was also cool to get to meet Rocky and the Further Faster team, who are my gear sponsors for Te Ararora. As a big fan of the Dirt church Radio podcast it was cool to see them in action as they did a live show while we were there. They talked to the Kepler race director, Dwight Grieve, Rocky and Grant Guise generally about the Kepler.
Before I knew it we headed out for dinner at an Italian restaurant and had a couple of beers (for dutch courage) with a few friends and the Crush the Cargill committee. Race briefing came and went and it was time to try and get some sleep before the big dance! I always struggle to get to sleep before an event and tonight was no different!
My alarm went off on the 1stof December at 5 in the morning so I had a light breakfast, got my race kit on and headed out to the control gates, my race didn’t start until 7 but I was keen to see the Kepler people off. I had a coffee and away they went, I had a bit of FOMO as I had been in there position the last 3 years, But I was still stoked to be there in this iconic race as I know how hard it is to get a spot.
10 to 7 rolled around and we started to line up, I had a quick chat with Ruth Croft which was cool and let the fast guys make their way to the front, our hooter went off and we were under way. When the Kepler starts it is super hard to find your rhythm as there are 450 people trying to run along single trail. However I found with the Grunt, as there are only 200 runners it opened out so much better and after a couple of km’s I found my groove. It was 5 km’s of flattish terrain to Broad Bay the first aid station so I knuckled down and got it done and then started fast hiking up the big hill it was misty and eery in the bush and pretty surreal. I suddenly found myself behind Wanaka runner Annabel Jeaffreson who had also started hiking and I thought “shit I probably should be way behind her” as I knew she was a fast runner. But I carried on and passed her on the way up! I got out of the bush line and was feeling good. We headed up through the inversion layer and broke into sunshine. It was amazing up there; the sun was out, there was no wind and the scenery is some of the best around!
Once I reached a high point after the bush line the terrain flattens out and I started running again, I was in my happy place passing the photographer with stoke on my face and before I knew it I was at Luxmore Hut! Who would happen to be there? Yip Tom Booth and Adam Keen… handing out shots of tequila! Something that I have never enjoyed my whole life. I thought bugger it, and had a shot! I slammed it back then took a stumble and nearly fell off the boardwalk! Whoops! I pulled myself together got to the hut, turned around and started the cruise back down. I was in my happy place on the way down as we were running in an alpine section on a great walk in Fiordland, above the clouds on one of those out of the box days! Before I knew it I was back at Broad Bay, where I had heard from so many people that the last 5 km’s home along the flats is where the race starts! I was still feeling sweet so kept my pace down and made my way to the finish, I was catching and passing people and there is no better feeling! My goal was to go in for 2.30, but as I previously said I like to set the bar high! My 2ndgoal was sub 3! I looked at my watch and 2 hours 40 had ticked over and I still had 2 km’s left! You could hear the loudspeaker blaring from the finish by then so I dug deep and made it to the familiar control gates and ran across the finish in 2 hours and 51 minutes! An hour behind new record holder Andy Good! I got a finishers medal put around my neck and had a well deserve seat. Even though it was 10 in the morning the beer at the end went down a treat too!
Something that I had never experienced before was seeing the first people home in the Kepler so we checked their ETA and I found a spot by the finish. It was cool to See Dan Jones cross the line in 5 hours flat followed by Blake and Vajin!
The rest of the day flew by and it was cool to hang out at the finish and watch my mates come in and hear about their day running 60 kms. There were lots of tales of battle! Such as Terry Davis coming in before Grant Guise! Matt Rayment heading to Invercargill by chopper, Crush the Cargill committee member Andrew Glennie pulling the plug only 35 km’s in and getting a chopper back to the start. Listening to tales of people who had the tequila at Luxmore; for some it turned their race upside down, for others they crushed it! And then the epic-ness of Rocky from further faster who was running his first ultra. Rocky wanted to finish in 12 hours he got too one of the aid stations where he was told he couldn’t continue as he wouldn’t make it by the cut off. He said bugger that and carried on regardless! That night at the Moose, where everyone gathers for a well-earned beer, in walks Rocky with his medal hung proudly around his neck! He had crossed the finish line within the 12 hour limit, passing people on the way and was rather pleased with himself!
The next day we went to the usual breakfast place, The Sandfly café where Grant Guise was stoked as he had just got into Hardrock and a fair few other usual faces and sore bodies showed up. The coffees and the Egg Benedicts went down well! Prize giving came and went and we all said out goodbyes and left Te-Anau, knowing that a lot of these people were satisfied and would no doubt would be returning next year for more of the same!
As I write this it is just over a week until my next challenge Crush the Cargill in Dunedin on the 15thof December! I have been given an opportunity with time off work so will give the whole 24 hours a solid crack and see what happens! The idea as a whole makes me pretty nervous and heading up and down a mountain for 24 hours seems a bit monotonous to me but I know with the people and comradery that comes within the running community it will be a fun 24 hours and perfect for my mental strength in the lead up for next year running the Te Araroa, and I’m looking forward to it.