A SOCIAL STUDY ON RUNNING
Kilometres from Auckland to Te Anau: 1771
Approximate travelling time from Riverhead to Te Anau: 4.5 hours (45 minute drive to airport/90 minute flight/120 minute drive from Queenstown to Te Anau)
Number of spare seats in row on flight down: 2
Rental Cars: Matt- Jucy El Cheapo (2008 Baby Blue Hyundai Getz. Automatic. Full Insurance) Ferried myself, Ruby and Kristian to Te Anau admirably. Stereo with aux port for music. James- Jucy Juice Box (2008 Bronze Hyundai Getz. Manual. Dodgy transmission, no insurance) no stereo.
Playlists: Matt- Graveyard: Hisingen Blues. True Widow: Avvolgere. Nothing: Tired of Tomorrow. Father John Misty: I love you, Honeybear. Kristian- Amon Amarth: Twilight Of The Thunder God. Psy-Trance: Various Artists. James- (Motel Jamz) Various House Music Bangers and also Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Number of beers consumed Thursday night whilst packing bag: 3 (I really should have taken the process more seriously)
Number of beers consumed Friday night pre race: 0 (A modicum of discipline prevailed)
Number of coffees consumed on Saturday Morning: Matt- 3. James-2. Anna- 3.
What Wikipedia Says:
Te Anau is a town in the Southland region of the South Island of New Zealand. It is on the eastern shore of Lake Te Anau in Fiordland. Lake Te Anau is the largest lake in the South Island and within New Zealand second only to Lake Taupo. The 2013 census recorded the town's population as 1,911. The town has a wide range of accommodation, with over 4,000 beds available in summer.
Tourism and farming are the predominant economic activities in the area. Lying as it does at the borders of Fiordland National Park, it is the gateway to a wilderness area famed for tramping and spectacular scenery. Many tourists come to Te Anau to visit the famous nearby fiords Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. The town is also used as a base for those undertaking the Milford Track and the Kepler Track, the latter being a 4-day loop from Te Anau. Visitors to the area also partake in activities such as kayaking, cycling, jet boat riding, fishing and hunting, farm tours and seaplane/helicopter sightseeing. In 2014, readers of New Zealand's Wilderness magazine voted Te Anau as the best location in New Zealand for tramping (hiking) opportunities.
What I say:
Initially nothing as I had never been. I agree with James’ viewpoint that it’s like Southland’s version of Taupo ringed with mountains. They have a Fresh Choice, which reminds me of West Auckland and a reasonable selection of okay beer. They also have Doritos. Recommend highly. Would come again outside of Kepler based activities.
WHY WE WERE ALL THERE: The Kepler Challenge
This is the 29th time that the 60km Kepler Challenge has been run. The event was originally designed as a one off to celebrate the centenary of Quinton MacKinnon, the first Pakeha to re discover the Milford Track (it’s presumed pre European Maori used a similar route). The Kepler Trail was used as it was logistically difficult to get to the Milford track. On 17 December 1988 149 people hurtled up Mt. Luxmore, over the ridge and down the 100 or so switchbacks to the Iris Burn hut then through the 30km of primordial Beech forest back to the control gates of lake Te Anau. The run made enough coin to erect a statue of Quintin that gazes longingly up lake Te Anau towards his beloved Fiordland. That was that, or so the race committee thought, however there was such demand that the event has been run every year since. The present day race (and it’s sister event, the 27km Luxmore Grunt) attract a total of 600 runners (450 for the Kepler Challenge and 150 for the Luxmore) and sells out in within an hour of opening each year. The run has become legend, attracting a deep field and fierce times every year. Despite this the run maintains a resolutely grass roots feel. From the news clippings pinned to the boards in the hall at registration to the elastic that is offered to fasten the event bibs and the themed aid stations (located approximately every 6km from 30km in) which are stacked with local volunteers, this truly is a community event. One of the cooler things about Kepler is that the Kepler Trust (which run the event) donate up to $20000 to local events and causes. They also maintain the stoat traps which are located approximately every 200m for the entire length of the track. That’s 300 traps!! Get bent, stoats.
WHY I WAS THERE:
I’ve talked before in other media how on the first trail marathon I ever completed the guys I was with were using it as a training run for Kepler. I was shocked that you would use a marathon to train for ANYTHING, and also that the event sold out so quickly. I had resolved myself to never doing the event until I was very kindly offered a space through my connection to Altra. It was a month after my goal race (a trail marathon) and the culmination of 11 months training with James Kuegler Coaching. This race, in essence, was gravy. My focus on the month leading up to Kepler was rest, recover, reconnect and look forward to my weekend away whilst experiencing a storied event. I was staying with Grant Guise in Te Anau and that was about all I knew, so I rolled up to race registration with my compulsory gear in a musette with far less anxiety than I normally experience. All registered and sorted re accomodation I got hold of James and spent an engaging afternoon at the Sandfly cafe, watching various people line up to have their photo taken with Anna Frost, who appeared gracious and chill.
ON THE DAY: THE 2016 KEPLER CHALLENGE
MY PLACE: 265
WINNER’S TIME: 4:54:58
MY TIME: 8:48:18
TOTAL ASCENT: 1639m
TOTAL DESCENT: 1660m
TOTAL CALORIES: 7131
TOTAL DISTANCE: 59.74
JAMES’ TOTAL DISTANCE: 30km
JAMES TOTAL CALORIES: 4700
TOTAL TIMES LAST 2.5KM RUN BY JAMES IN COURSE OF WEEKEND: 7
“When we get up through the treeline you’re going to want to put your jacket on, mate” the man in front of me (who had run 13 previous times) informed me as we crested the bluffs on the route up to Luxmore hut. We’d been climbing for nearly an hour through Beech forest on a well maintained trail and I’d been sticking doggedly to my pre race plan, run strictly to my aerobic heart rate, eat regularly and stay calm. Despite the early start I was warm and comfortable. As soon as we hit the alpine level I was hit with strong, cold winds. It was straight on with the jacket, hat and gloves for the push onto the Luxmore hut. The group I was running with had several first timers in it and we were all marvelling at the scale and grandeur of the scene.
At Luxmore hut I cracked on a thermal and moved quickly through the Where’s Wally? Themed gear check and climbed for a further 10 kilometres over snow covered single track up over Mt Luxmore basin and over to the 80 something odd turns down to Iris Burn Hut and the half way point. I can’t describe the incredible nature of this part of the course. I’m unashamed to say I shed a tear at one point as I was completely overwhelmed with what I was experiencing. Balancing the wish to drink in the beauty with not smashing my head open on the multiple sharp rocks and steep drops, I concentrated on keeping it easy and anticipated the descent to Iris Burn Hut.
Fighting the desire to barrel down the switchbacks as fast I was able, I hung back, ate, and gradually stripped off layers as we dropped out of the wind. Getting to half way at approximately 4 hours 15 I kissed the Padre’s ring at the aid station, had some rum laced Christmas cake and settled in to knock out the second half of the race in as efficient a manner as possible.
For me, this race was divided into three parts. The climb up to the bluffs, which was cool. The 14km of overwhelming beauty and grandeur with the amazing descent, then the long boring run back to the car to text all your friends about the second part.
Things were sweet from 30km to 45km, and I ticked over as lightly as possible, eating, drinking, remaining in the moment as much as I could. For the first time I found myself running for long periods by myself through what seemed like a never ending green tunnel. Soon after the 45km aid station, I found myself suddenly thrust into The Upside Down (if you’ve seen Stranger Things, you’ll know, you know?). Suddenly I was thrust into an alternate dimension where it was sort of the same, but dark and unpleasant. This wasn’t a physiological response but a mental one. I don’t know if it was because I’d been so resolute that I wouldn’t run an ultra for a long time and hadn’t prepared? Was it because I didn’t have any skin in the game, so to speak? My family weren’t at the finish, I no desire to get the job done..I dunno. It was dark and unpleasant for a while there. My mental state went from Step two:
I had rallied by the time I hit the aid station at 55 km and was running stronger and had sorted myself out. Sitting with the decision that you could drop if you want was enough to make me make the choice to stick it out. Several Chux cloths soaked with cold water over my head was enough to flip me 180 degrees, I passed 5 people in the last 5 km en route to the finish, all the while cursing the PA, which I could hear from 56 km. As I wound along through the final kilometres, I was satisfied to finish, and despite dealing with my distress in a less than adaptive manner, I wasn’t beating myself up. I’d run one of New Zealand’s great walks, I could relax, eat some food and the next morning I could go home. Happy.
- Matt Rayment