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May 2014

Routeburn...it's a classic!

Sarah Douglas Running Blog - Routeburn Classic

The event started with what I can only describe as the most entertaining race briefing I think I have ever attended. While walking to the briefing, my husband said he would stay for the start but might pop to the pub when it started to get boring. To my surprise he was still there at the end, giving as much applause and laughter as the others around him. That means it was one hell of a briefing to keep him from going to the pub...he is british afterall! If you were there for the briefing you will understand what I have to admit to next. I did get 8 hours of sleep. And I did drink a coffee before the race (ok ok ok, you twisted my arm, one mug of coffee with three shots in it!). According to Evan (race director) these two things (along with popping ibuprofen) will give you an advantage over the other athletes and constitute an “unfair advantage” in the Routeburn Classic. I still owe Evan a urine sample, I really think he needs to give us bigger containers...and maybe a funnel!

The day begins at crazy o’clock with a bus ride in the dark for over an hour on a winding (very winding) road. I hadn’t really thought about it beforehand, but if you are prone to road sickness, perhaps make some plans for this (I don’t know, brown bag or a big purse maybe!?) Luckily no-one was sick on our bus (or they were quiet with a big purse) but I had a few nausous moments. A few minutes in the very very fresh air at the start line will sort you out though...you could see your breath! (or maybe all of us were sneaking the pre-race cig!) This also brought my first dilemna....one that all women, runner or not, can relate to....what on earth to wear??? Really it was what layers to race in. It had been very chilly with a bit of fresh snow on the mountains in Te Anau the night before and knowing it was meant to be about 17 degrees and sunny in Glenorchy...it was a tough decision. Warming up in all my required gear, I made a spur of the moment decision right before the start to strip to just a drifit tshirt, arm-warmers and shorts...I felt a bit naked lining up with many others in their icebreakers, longsleeves and tights. Luckily, it was the right decision for me, I was never too hot or too cold. I didn’t have to waste time to stopping to take off layers...every...second...counts.

The race started as expected and I found myself in a good position to start the single track. I got into a rhythm on first uphills and passed a group of guys and Jess Simson early on. But it wasn’t long before some of the guys passed me back on the technical downhill. I knew that this was something of a weak point in my Routeburn Classic plans, and they showed me how the Pros do it!! Wow! They made it look easy...which it most definitely was not. This continued for a while...I would pass them on the ups, they passed me on the downs. It wasn’t long before Jess Simson passed me on the downhills too, it wasn’t much before the Mackenzie Hut she effortlessly flew by me. I was stopping and starting, looking up and down, left and right over the rocks...picking my foot placing...maybe I should be “Little Miss Clumbsy!”

Sarah running down technical rocks

I was looking forward to the uphill to Harris Saddle. My race plan was to attack this section...but unfortunately I started to go through a bad patch. I just wasn’t feeling good, my legs were missing their usual drive and I wasn’t making up any time on Jess. It took a while for me to get myself together, my thoughts were hectic. And then I focused on things other than the race. How was my breathing? How was my form? I think I might of even...(shush)...started singing to myself! I would never admit to that in public...except for this diary...(which is just between us isn’t it?) I managed to find a second wind (It was in my pack the whole time!!!) and I started to make inroads into Jess’s lead. By the Harris Saddle I had caught back up to her, I could almost touch her pack (I didn’t...that would of been weird!)

What goes up, must come down, and that is exactly what happens after the Harris Saddle. A very very technical descent to the Routeburn Hut. There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop Jess from running away from me. She made me feel like I was standing still. I could see her jumping from rock to rock, not even breaking her stride, as I was using all four of my limbs (and various rocks, branches and utter utter luck) to keep myself upright. 

At the Routeburn Flats it was here that I learnt Jess had put 90 seconds on me. I couldn’t help but think how my inability to run on technical terrain had really let me down. I am blown away...stunned and seriously in awe at the ease of which the runners who finished ahead of me...and probably many of the runners behind me, were able to cascade so smoothly on. How do you do it?! This may warrant a “WTF”. Seriously....I need to know! If you know of this dark little secret that can help me to be a better technical runner, please, please let me know! It is an area I know I need to work on. But enough of my cries for help, back to the race. The math was simple, I had 7km to run down 90 seconds. No matter how I calculated it, the only answer I came to was = “you better hurry!” So I lengthened my stride and all thoughts centered on running the best final 7kms of a mountain race I have ever run! Engage Afterburners.Sarah on her way to winning the Routeburn Classic 2014

To my suprise, I managed to catch Jess with about 4km to go. (Quick side note: I really have to hand it to Jess, she ran an amazing race. She is the type of runner who is just born to run well over the Routeburn Track and I am really glad she went under the record...simply an amazing competitor). Before now it had been all about focusing (I mean really focusing...like driving a brand new car) on the downhills, pushing the uphills and catching Jess. Now it was about me vs. clock (and not falling over!) At this point I had no idea of how I was doing for time, I knew I had another gear stowed away for the last few kms so I started to really push the pace. It wasn’t until I saw the sign for the carpark that I knew my time was going to be a good one. It really was a great feeling running up to the finish! Up to the finish??...yes...you did read it right, after running up over mountains it finishes with a short uphill! Nothing in comparison to what you have run up already but after running on the flats, your body has forgotten what it feels like! I did savour and enjoy that moment...thank you to all the supporters who came out and cheered me on. And a big thank you to the volunteers and marshalls who make the event possible.

A big thank you to Evan for a fantastic event! Not just a race...it was an “Event”. A special event for all who participated. Some races lack a sense “togetherness”, “compassion” and “soul” but the Routeburn Classic has it all in spades. It was great to see you...on the finish line...not looking the best...a bit of sweat here...and lot of mud there...(ME...not Evan!) You shook my hand and congratulated me, as you did with every other finisher, it is those little personal touches that make this event so special and meaningful. Another big thank you to all the special someone’s out there who dedicate themselves to achieving our dreams...mine is to my husband for driving myself and two of my friends to Te Anau on Friday, getting up early to drive back to Queenstown, walk our dog, getting straight back into the car to make it to the finish before I did. Legend. To Outside Sports and New Balance, thank you for believing in me. To Ultimate Direction, your pack really is better than the rest (and I’m not getting paid to say that!) If your not happy with the one on your back, give Ultimate Direction a go, you probably won’t even realise your wearing one (and that’s a good thing!) Last but not least, thank you to Gareth at Southern Sports Podiatry for going out of your way to get me to the start line and over the finish line!

I look forward to seeing you all at the Routeburn Classic in 2015.

Sarah Douglas xxx

About Sarah Douglas - Mountain Runner

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