Trip Notes: Air New Zealand Queenstown Marathon 2016

by Dawn Hillier-Davis 04 Apr 2017

In November 2016, my husband and I were lucky enough to head to New Zealand for the Air New Zealand Queenstown Marathon with Can Too.  

My husband Kev was one of four lucky winners in the Queenstown Marathon competition last year, run by Can Too in partnership with Air New Zealand. With two weeks until race day, he had the choice of what race to run …the 10km, a half marathon, or the marathon.

It was a no brainer – if you get to go overseas and run a beautiful course like Queenstown, why wouldn’t you want to run as much of it as possible … so he chose the marathon!

With two weeks to train (we had thankfully just come off the Can Too trail running program, and kept up our training through into the Blackmores Sydney Marathon), we pounded the streets to get ourselves distance-ready, and on the Friday morning, flew into stunning Queenstown to begin the adventure.

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How We Became “Can Too Tragics” …

(You can skip this part if you like!)

We are both now relatively seasoned runners. Queenstown was to be our fifth marathon. Our first marathon training program with Can Too was Gold Coast Marathon in 2011. Despite having trained ourselves for several City2Surf (14km) and two half marathons before that, a full marathon is a whole different ball game!

Can Too’s excellent coaches taught us how to train properly – I never doubted I’d complete that first race because the training you get is so comprehensive. When you start a marathon program and you’re facing twenty weeks of training, it seems unfathomable that you’ll go from your first week of around 8km … and 20 weeks later be running 42.2km!

Slowly and incrementally, each week you tick off a new goal and suddenly you’re running 20km+ each week and thinking nothing of it. The best part about this program for me however was the lifelong friendships I’ve made through chats on those long runs – Can Too simply seems to attract awesome people!

The (Now) Second-Most Beautiful Marathon

Our second program with Can Too was the Great Ocean Road Running Festival ultra-half marathon (23km) in 2012, which is a 23km hilly run from Kennett River to Apollo Bay. It’s a stunning run with ocean to your left almost the whole way. We swore we’d one day come back and do the full “marathon” distance at Great Ocean Road (actually an ultra distance of 45km) and we got there in 2014. I thoroughly recommend this run, and until Queenstown recently, this was my favourite marathon for stunning scenery.

Facing My Fears – Ocean Swimming!

After a stint working overseas, in 2015 I took on my biggest challenge yet - Can Too’s Sydney Ocean Swim, a terrifying-for-me ocean swim with a goal of 1km in the Macquarie (Little) Big Swim at Palm Beach.

At the time I’d rather run a marathon ten times over than set foot in the ocean – which is why I needed to conquer those fears! Each week I’d cry, freak out and generally find myself so far out of my comfort zone, but the next week would be easier than the last, and slowly, I got braver and a little more confident.

By the end of the 14-week program I’d completed my goal swim at Palmy and upgraded to the Australia Day 2km swim in Sydney Harbour. Two years before I’d just managed to complete the 750m distance here (wearing flippers) only to swim back to shore in a panic a few minutes in. I’d come a very long way thanks to Can Too.

Giving Up My Race Goals To Support Others

I was a Team Captain for the Blackmores Half Marathon 2015, putting my own race goals aside to motivate and support the next generation of Can Tooer’s to achieving their goals. It was an experience I absolutely adored. To see participants progress over the fourteen weeks, from possibly complete non or novice runners, to chasing down their half marathon goals, was amazing!

I loved seeing people smash their race, and I made some more great friends who have gone on to continue training for other events, and continued to push their own boundaries. It didn’t just change my own life in those fourteen weeks of 2015, but changed many people’s whole outlooks on fitness being not just possible, but fun! They too made friendships for life.

Off the Grid in the Trails of “Secret Sydney”

After enjoying Blackmores Half Marathon so much, I captained Can Too’s first ever Sydney-based trail run training program last year. After a lot of road running with Can Too, it was a huge – and literal – breath of fresh air to hit the trails of Sydney that I never even knew existed!

Lots of trails just appear off the end of a cul-de-sac and take you into a hidden place that feels like a big secret! It’s perfect to do this kind of running as a group, staying safe together as we’re “off the grid” at times, and it opens your eyes to a whole new running world – new routes, tracks and scenery you would otherwise never know about on your own.

It was also entirely different from a fitness perspective as running trails is generally a lot more undulating, with different technical levels, such as climbing over boulders and trees, crossing streams. and following goat trails, compared to a more steady and predictable road training program. It’s a brilliant program to do in winter to get you out into “secret Sydney”.

So when Queenstown came about, it was perfect timing: a distance run, on trails with beautiful scenery, but non-technical at the same time … my kind of race!!!

Sydney to Queenstown

Flying into Queenstown, you are surrounded by absolutely stunning scenery. Mountains, lakes, and big, big skies. It’s just breathtaking from the moment you land. This was going to be one special race!

And it really was.

First off – it’s on a Saturday! So you get to run Saturday, party Saturday night and enjoy a beautiful Sunday at the wineries, bungee jumping, riding the luge, or checking out one of the other hundreds of activities on offer in the adventure town … win-win!

It’s a really well-organised event that starts off bussing you out to the start line, which is on the edge of a golf course surrounded by mountains. It was a perfect day – maybe too perfect in fact! We expected 6C from the forecast but we got more like 20C and sunburn … so my hot tip is – slip, slop, slap on the sunscreen!!

From the very beginning, the event was friendly and relaxed. With a field of just 1,575 marathoners it feels very community-minded and everyone is chatty. Being in our orange Can Too singlets, we were immediately spotted by a fellow Sydney Cantoo-er, and chatted in the starting chute (which is a beautiful tree-lined avenue) waiting for the race starter’s gun.

And Off We Went …

From start to finish, I don’t think the smile left my face. From the moment you start running down The Avenue at Millbrook every corner brings a new breath-taking vista.

You run through the historic township of Arrowtown, following the Arrow River to Lake Hayes. The distance just rolls away under your feet as you’re so absorbed in the scenery, hardly noticing the kilometers being ticked off. Around the 27km mark, you cross under – and then over – the Old Shotover Bridge, with the Shotover River the most amazing crystal blue.

You follow the Kawarau River which runs into Lake Wakatipu (the second-purest lake water in the world – you’re better off dipping your glass in than buying bottled water!), and you run along the lake’s edges all the way home into Queenstown Gardens, leaving the lake for only the last few hundred metres to finish at the Queenstown Recreation Ground flanked by what feels like the whole town.

The Road to Recovery

And at the end? Not only do you get your runner’s high, you also get a really cool medal, along with Queenstown’s finest food and beverage venders waiting for you … it’s not known as a foodie destination for nothing!

Queenstown Marathon has no fillers – it’s all beautiful. Elevation-wise, it’s a perfect race – not completely flat (and believe me, there is NOTHING worse than a totally flat marathon!), a few undulations and really just one big hill at 30-ish km which is mean but the views when you reach the top make it worthwhile. Whilst the surface is mainly trail, it’s very compact and I wore my regular running shoes rather than my trails, and was happy with that decision.

Why the Queenstown Marathon is A Cut Above the Rest.

Combine the beautiful course with a very generous cut-off time of 7.5 hours, a small field of runners, a friendly community atmosphere, a fab medal and a great apres-race party atmosphere, and you have a picture-perfect race. I can’t recommend it highly enough – and if you don’t feel ready to take on the marathon yet…well there’s a half marathon and a 10km option too which follow sections of the same course.

What’s Next For Me?

Having run and ocean swam with Can Too, I added cycling to the mix and took up triathlon training. On Sunday 7 May 2017 I’m competing my first full ironman distance at Port Macquarie: a 3.8km swim, a 180km cycle, and full marathon (42.2km) on the end.

It’s a challenge I would never have dreamed possible for a ‘regular Joe’ like me a few years ago, but Can Too – along with my fellow training buddies and awesome coaches – have given me the confidence that you really can do anything … you just have to break it down into pieces.

Race day is just the sum of those parts. And I can’t wait!

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